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Who needs the Math EOCs when you have the PERT? An Open Letter to Senator Simmons

“Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, who chairs the education appropriations subcommittee, says he is looking for solutions. He wants to eliminate some tests and reduce the time spent on testing. He also recognizes the time drain extends far beyond the actual testing days to include test preparation and taking practice tests to prepare for the real thing. With a broad consensus among legislators, educators and families that some balance has to be restored to the classroom, this could be the spring that brings meaningful change.

The devil will be in the details, of course. One suggestion by superintendents is to eliminate state end-of-course exams in algebra II, geometry, civics and U.S. history.”      http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-restore-balance-to-student-testing/2310323

Dear Senator Simmons,

Florida has Math Problems. 8th grade NAEP scores have plummeted. SAT and ACT Math scores are declining at a faster rate than National Scores. We think part of the problem is the state mandated End of Course (EOC) assessments and we have a solution that provides a better assessment of a students math ability, a better assessment of a school’s math instruction, is less expensive and returns valuable instruction time to the classroom. We suggest you eliminate all three state mandated Math EOCs and assess College Readiness Math Skills with the FLDOE approved Postsecondary Education Readiness Test or PERT.

We both have children who have taken these advanced math courses, with their accompanying EOCs, in middle school. We have researched and written about Florida’s math sequences and EOCs in a blog called “Accountabaloney.” We have presented our concerns regarding the AIR created, FSA Math EOCs many times since they were first administered in the Spring of 2015. We have testified before the State Board of Education, local school boards and, earlier this month, at your Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. We have met personally with the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the Department of Education and written endless letters to state legislators. We hope you will consider our ideas.

THE PROBLEM:

The Algebra 1 End of Course assessment is not a good assessment of Algebra skills:

Students can pass the Algebra 1 EOC answering barely more than 1 out of 5 questions correctly. Let that sink in… a student can miss almost 80% of the questions and still earn a student a passing score.

The Algebra 1 EOC appears to be designed for gifted math students:

  • More than 85% of students advanced into Algebra in middle school pass but less than 37% of those taking Algebra in High School earn passing scores.
  • The vast majority of Level 4 and 5 scores are earned before 9th grade, with virtually all the level 1 scores being earned in high school.

Each state mandated EOC is worth 30% of the student’s course grade and could significantly impact a student’s overall GPA, putting them at a disadvantage for college admission when compared to their private school counterparts, whose grade’s reflect their classroom performance. Additionally, every District converts the  EOC level 1-5 to the 30% of the class grade differently, meaning a student scoring a level 3 (passing) might earn a 75% in one county and an 88% in another (again, placing individual students at a disadvantage, depending on their district.)

The Math EOCs are not a good high school accountability measure.

Currently, 30% of the High School Grade Calculation is based on performance on the Math EOCs (divided evenly between Achievement (%passing), Learning Gains, and Learning Gains for the lowest 25%).:

  • The majority of advanced math students take the Algebra 1 assessment before high school. Though passing the Algebra 1 EOC is a high school graduation requirement, almost 40% of students take the assessment in middle school. This leads to an underestimation of the quality of math instruction at a high school and creates a disincentive to encourage students into higher, math classes (beyond Algebra 2).
  • After the institution of the Algebra 2 EOC (an assessment with only a 40% passing rate in 2016), enrollment in Algebra 2 has declined (compare here and here).
  • FADSS’ Legislative Priorities request the “banking” of Algebra 1 EOC scores from middle school, to be used in high school grade calculations. Though this may cause the school grade calculation to reflect the number of students in the school that have passed the EOCs to date, it does not reflect the math instruction provided in that school.
  • Calculated Learning Gains represent 2/3 of the Math component of the high school grade, yet learning gains can not be accurately counted by comparing scores on two distinct (yet subsequent) EOC. For example, currently Algebra 2 scores are compared to Geometry scores to calculate a student’s learning gains. (This would be like comparing World History and U.S. History scores and calculating a learning gain and it is what we refer to as “accountabaloney.”)

The Math EOCs have never been fully validated.

The Alpine Validity Study only assessed the Algebra 1 EOC (ignoring Geometry and Algebra 2) and primarily confirmed whether the exam aligned to the standards.  To date, the math EOCs have never been shown to be fair, valid or reliable for certain at-risk subpopulations of students, including English Language Learners or students with disabilities, yet these students are still required to pass it in order to earn a regular diploma.

The Math EOCs waste valuable instructional time.

The state mandated EOCs are given up to 6 weeks before the end of the school year. If the three Math EOCs were eliminated, teachers could assess students with a teacher created final exam at the end of each school year. This, alone, could return 3 x 6 = 18 weeks, OR ONE FULL SEMESTER, worth of instructional time back to these Math teachers.

THE SOLUTION:

Eliminate the Math EOCs and administer the PERT at the end of 10th (or 11th grade) grade.

Benefits of the PERT:

The purpose of the PERT is to assess academic skills and determine college readiness.

If all students took the PERT in 10th (or 11th) grade, and the scores were used in the school grade calculation, then the Math portion of the School Grade would represent all of the students in a high school that achieved college readiness, rather than reflecting only on the EOC scores of the less advanced math students who took the EOCs in high school.

The FLDOE already allows the PERT to be used as a concordant score for the Algebra 1 EOC High School Graduation requirement so no additional alignment studies would be needed.

The PERT costs less than a dollar per assessment.

The PERT test typically takes less than 45 minutes for a student to complete. (The Algebra 1 EOC alone lasts 3 hours.)

PERT results would not be needed for grade calculation, so the assessment could be given at any time during the school year, without significantly altering instructional time. By eliminating the Math EOCs, one full semester of instructional time would be returned to the classroom.

We believe eliminating the Math EOCs and assessing high school math achievement with the PERT is a solution to some of Florida’s testing burdens: it is a cheaper, faster and fairer way to measure Math Achievement in high schools and will return up to a semester of instructional time to these math classrooms. We urge you to consider this solution, which we believe will bring meaningful change by restoring balance to the classroom.

Please understand that this “solution” only solves one aspect of the current problems with Florida’s Education Accountability System. We urge you to look at the impact of the high stakes attached to state assessments, which we believe have fundamentally altered the way students are taught in Florida classrooms. Our students waste hours in the classroom preparing for tests and their curriculum has become more and more focused on tested subjects, almost to the exclusion of other important elements of a quality education. Spending millions on testing is not an accountable use of our tax dollars. When high stakes for districts, schools and teachers are attached to student test scores, the tests become the focus. It is time to return the focus to students and academic excellence will follow.

Thank you,

Sue Woltanski and Suzette Lopez

Public school Parents and Co-Founders of Accountabaloney.com


Read more about our concerns with Florida’s Math Sequence and the EOCs:

Florida’s Middle School Math Problems: A Perfect Storm

What Is the Goal of the Algebra 1 EOC?

Algebra 1 EOC: Ridiculously High Stakes

The Hazards of Playing the Accelerated Math Game

Algebra 2 EOC Results: Has Florida Jumped The Shark?

Skip Ahead or Remediate? Compliance Rather Than Commitment

Just Say No to Algebra 1 EOC Retakes: Take the PERT

 

2 Comments

  1. Robert Hawkins

    This is the absolute best take in the math EOCs in Florida that I have read or heard. I am a frustrated math teacher who sees the EOCs as only a waste of money and time. When a passing score is about 12 out of 60 questions on a test then there is something wrong with said test. The current Algebra 1 EOC does not evaluate student’s knowledge of Algebra, but rather their knowledge of taking that specific test. I am currently teaching Algebra 2 students, all of which passed the Algebra 1 EOC, who do not have the Algebra skills needed in Algebra 2. I do believe that the PERT is a viable option as a replacement test, but I think if that is the case then the passing score would need to be revisited. The 97 that is currently the standard is not strong enough.

    1. Sue Kingery Woltanski

      Thank you for your kind words. We will continue to try to get legislators to listen.

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