Members of the Florida House and Senate,
Florida’s assessment statutes remain in a constant state of fluctuation. However, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) foundation, upon which the requirements were built, is straightforward. Among the NCLB requirements of state-mandated tests is that they are to be “valid, reliable and of adequate technical quality,” and that they “objectively measure academic achievement, knowledge, and skills” (SAAP, 2007, p. 4). To ensure that states meet these and the other requirements, the United States Department of Education outlines a transparent peer review process for states, citing the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. This process ensures that the state selected assessment is valid, reliable, and technically sound.
In that the State of Florida has not met the expectation required by NCLB, administering the FSA as a state mandate is both impermissible and unconscionable.
Consequently, the prudent course of action includes:
- As a way to evaluate the efficacy of the FSA, use collected data from “field tests” in the 2014-15 school year and compare with the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) data which has a demonstrated predictive validity of .80 to .90 (depending on the subgroup). This means that the State must release the FSA and the results to administrators and teachers for evaluation and data disaggregation. For meaningful assessment of the FSA, the test must be made available to subject matter experts to examine content validity. Transparency in the process will also begin to restore lost confidence in the State Department of Education.
- With respect to the contractual obligation between American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Commissioner Stewart: if the exam is one that proves not to meet psychometric norms after evaluation of the field tests, the contract must be taken up in court. A contract with AIR is not a legislative concern, nor is it the concern of the legislature that Commissioner Stewart made a premature decision requiring an enormous financial investment of taxpayer funds. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to use an inadequate assessment that has detrimental consequences because it is the path of least economic resistance.
- NCLB does not call for mandatory retention or remediation. Consequently, we recommend the legislature dismiss all use of mandatory retention and remediation; instead rely on professional educators to make decisions about pupil progression. Teachers are trained in curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and differentiating instruction, making them more qualified to make progression decisions than even a valid assessment, which provides only a snapshot of a student’s mastery at a particular point in time. Teachers are not proctors: they are professionals capable of making decisions about the best educational interests of children; allow them to use their expertise to do what is best for children.
Guide your decisions based on conscience and the outcry of the majority of stakeholders, rather than political or economic loyalty. Requiring children of six, seven, and eight years old to sit in silence to complete a 90-120 minute assessment is unconscionable. Robbing adolescents of engaging electives in favor of punitive and unnecessary remediation denies children the joy of education.
It is easy to manipulate data to support a particular position. However, the absence of data cannot be manipulated. While it may be politically tempting to laud an accountability system that favors a candidate whom you endorse, educators and psychometricians understand that the one consistent and unchanging measurement in American education to measure students and academic achievement is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Longitudinal NAEP data shows statistically insignificant changes since the inception of the test-based accountability reform movement (U.S. Department of Education, 1992-2013).
It is intellectually dishonest to indicate that Florida students are improving in proficiency based on proficiency metrics that are constantly and arbitrarily redefined. Even as this letter is authored, the proficiency levels (“cut scores”) of the Florida Standards Assessment have yet to be determined; in effect, the yardstick has not been calibrated. There is no psychometric data for the FSA, and the absence of data cannot be manipulated. Returning to the presumption that a test-based accountability system is valid is based on flawed logic that puts the interests of profit-driven reform ahead of student success and a thriving public school system.
Opt Out Orlando and the 26 Opt Out groups across the state of Florida will continue to push back against punitive testing until the Florida Legislature is willing to put students’ interests first, in the following ways:
- Abandon the use of the invalidated Florida Standards Assessment
- Remove the high stakes of retention, remediation, and graduation associated with all assessments
- Promote the use of a reasonable, authentic, teacher-created portfolio that demonstrates a student’s best work and honors the nature of the classroom teacher to assess student learning
- Promote teacher-created end of year exams that demonstrate content validity
We look forward to your swift legislative action that preserves the integrity of our public schools, high-quality teaching, and valid assessment of Florida’s children.
Opt Out Orlando, members and concerned stakeholders
American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association
Standards and Assessments Peer Review (SAAP) Guidance : Information and Examples for Meeting Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. (2007, December 21). Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/saaprguidance.pdf
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 1992–2013 Reading Assessments.
We are grateful to educator, friend, fellow parent and activist, Darcey Addo for authoring this letter on behalf of Opt Out Orlando.