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An Honest Conversation re. the Fiscal Impacts of HB773

The Foundation for Florida’s Future’s “Fewer Better Tests” bill (HB773/SB926) was presented to the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee on 3/14/17. The bill’s sponsor, Rep Manny Diaz Jr, claimed the bill would address the “testing issue” even though the bill does not eliminate any tests nor does it address any of the high stakes attached to the state assessments. Per Rep Diaz, when it comes to testing concerns “clearly the calendar is the biggest issue” and by moving all the state assessments to the last three weeks of the school year, teachers will have more time to prepare children for the required state assessments. We think that is baloney; the biggest issue is the high stakes attached to the state tests, NOT when the students take the tests.

We wrote earlier about HB 773 here and here.

A few observations from the discussion during this week’s Quality subcommittee:

HB773 changes the definition of a passing Level 3 on the FSA to “proficient.” This small word change will result in dramatic increases in the failure rates of the FSA. During his committee testimony, Rep. Diaz consistently equated “grade level” performance with “proficiency”, calling that an “honest conversation”, even though the bill’s staff analysis makes it clear that “whether ‘Proficient’ as defined for the NAEP means grade-level performance has been heavily debated.” In education terms, “on grade level” is meant to reflect the average reading level for a child in that grade, whereas NAEP “proficiency” is set to reflect an above average, aspirational reading achievement level. Referenced in the bill’s staff analysis, “The Proficiency debate: At a glance” makes it clear that the two terms are NOT synonymous:

According to NAEP, “proficient does not refer to ‘at grade’ performance.” Rather, proficient is “the overall achievement goal for American students” but NAEP acknowledges that “the average performance score on NAEP in most subjects falls within the Basic achievement level” (Loomis and Bourques, 2001).

Again, this seemingly small word change will have devastating effects on Florida’s schools and students. For example, per the staff analysis: “According to the Florida Department of Education, if the Level 3 cut point is aligned to the NAEP “Proficient” level, the percentage of students passing assessments required for graduation would decrease from 51 percent to 36 percent.” To be clear, that does not mean 0nly 36% of students would be reading at grade level, but rather that only 36% of the students would have reached the above grade level proficiency level, defined by NAEP, that would, then, be required for high school graduation. Florida will be refusing high school diplomas to students who read at or above grade level.

During Public Comments, Chair Raburn allowed a Charter School Principal from City of Hialeah Educational Academy to voice his support for the bill for almost 5 minutes. Guess what? Academica employs both that principal and Rep Diaz. (This connection was not disclosed during the meeting.) In addition, the Foundation for Florida’s Future waved in support of the bill, which was not surprising because they wrote it.

Also during public comment, Leon County parent, Beth Overholt, appeared to be the only person willing to question, or even mention, the bill’s insistence that the new contract for the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) allow for the administration of the FSA quarterly for students “identified through competency-based education as having mastered the content.” As we wrote earlier, this appears to be an attempt to allow expansion of the Competency Based Education (CBE) Pilot without direct legislative approval. At a minimum, it will require significant negotiations with the test manufacturer, AIR, to create a state assessment that can be securely given four times a year. We wonder why Representative Diaz never mentioned this during neither his bill presentation nor the bill’s initial press conference? We wonder why the Foundation for Florida’s Future doesn’t include any mention of the CBE language in their legislative analysis?

After little real debate, HB773 received unanimous approval from the Quality subcommittee and, now, moves on to the PreK-12 Education Appropriates subcommittee.

Finally, we urge everyone to take a closer look at the Fiscal Analysis and Economic Impact Statement in the Staff Analysis of HB773:

How is it possible that a bill that mandates that the DOE perform an SAT/ACT analysis, allows quarterly administration of the FSA for CBE students and requires a complete redo of the FSA score reports (which will need to be returned faster and with significantly more detail than before) will have NO fiscal impact at the State level? Both the score reports and the quarterly FSA administration WILL require significant changes to the current AIR contract, and that is unlikely to be free.

If the change in the proficiency language results in the predicted increased failure rates, districts will incur the additional costs associated with retention and remediation. Compacting what is currently 9 weeks of computer based testing into a 3 week time period will require significant technology infrastructure. Those cost burdens should be expected to have significant direct impacts on local districts.

How is it possible that this bill will have no fiscal impact? Answer: it is not possible.

We agree with Martin Ginsburg, the Palm Beach County public high school teacher who testified in opposition during the committee’s HB773 public comment: “This bill will only exacerbate existing problems.” HB773/SB926 will not eliminate any tests but it will increase failure rates and, likely, the costs associated with state testing.

Suggesting that there are NO costs associated with HB773 is accountabaloney. If Representative Diaz really wants “an honest conversation” he should request the staff take a second took at the fiscal impact of his bill. Also, we believe an honest discussion should include mention of the quarterly assessments for CBE and the impacts of such testing on costs and test security. Finally, we believe the proficiency language should be removed: equating “on grade level” with “proficiency” serves no purpose other that to raise failure rates and wreak havoc in our schools.

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