Letter to State Legislators

FLORIDA TESTING AND ACCOUNTABILITY  - November 2015

As the Parent-Teacher-Student Association and the School Advisory Council of Eastside High School in Gainesville, Florida, we are writing to express our deep concern about the current system of state-based testing and accountability in Florida.

Eastside High School is located in a high poverty area with a total of approximately 1400 students, 47.3% of whom receive free and reduced-price meals. The school has two magnet programs, one a career-tech culinary arts program and the other an International Baccalaureate program. Our overall 2014 graduation rate was 92% compared to the Florida average of 76%, and the on-time graduation rate for our at-risk students was 82%. EHS also received an A grade from the state in 2014. Our school is successfully serving the educational needs of a wide range of students coming from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races and cultures, and we are justifiably proud of its many accomplishments.

While we appreciate that the Department of Education has made some effort to reduce the time students spend on standardized testing, we remain of the opinion that the entire system is fundamentally flawed and does not benefit our students in preparing them to master the challenges of our future economy.

Considering the failure to implement a well-functioning system with clear established guidelines and appropriate results interpretation, we request the immediate suspension of the use of the 2015 FSA results to evaluate teachers and schools.

We are also concerned at how the results of the FSA may be used in future years to determine students’ graduation eligibility. Students should have clear and reliable information about what they need to achieve to graduate, which means assessments should be developed and properly tested and the required passing scores should be set well in advance of the test administration. The proposed cut scores, ranking all Florida students, appear unfair as this potentially disadvantages students merely based on their year of birth. Graduation should depend on comparable achievement targets every student is given the opportunity to meet.

We are concerned about the ongoing mismanagement of an ever-changing system of accountability and testing and the millions of dollars in public funding that are continually being invested in the design, implementation, administration, evaluation and interpretation of new models. 

We do not believe that the massive investment in the FCAT, the FCAT 2.0, the original Common Core test or the FSA resulted in sufficient benefits to our students, especially at a time when state funding for public education was being reduced and so many schools and districts struggled to finance maintenance needs, facilities upgrades, and basic educational programs and services. These financial challenges continue today. 

We request a comprehensive and completely independent review of the current policies, regulations, and laws, a review that truly reflects the input of our students, parents, and teachers regarding the many issues and concerns widely and repeatedly raised in the past several years. 

We believe the recent review of the FSA has not truly addressed those issues in a meaningful way. As a result we are left with a flawed system rather than one that delivers outcomes meeting the needs of all students, whether they are planning to pursue a college degree or have more interest in moving directly into the workforce.

We are concerned about continuous failure at state and federal level to reach agreement on the adoption of a nationally aligned achievement based testing model. A nationally aligned testing model is the best choice to benefit our students. It will be more cost effective for our schools and it will be better suited to meet the needs of future employers operating nationally and globally requiring a highly skilled and flexible workforce.

We support collaborative strategies that clearly target to eliminate duplications of the various tests administered to our students today at district, state and national level, including these required by colleges. Higher-level tests should be accredited to supersede lower-level tests and all tests should be administered in accordance to student achievement levels aiming to reduce the overall test load on students, teachers and schools and the associated amount of public funding currently spent per student on tests. 

We support the evaluation of the effectiveness of schools and teachers at a regional and school level, but that evaluation must be based on fair and reasonable achievement measures that take into consideration local issues, such as socioeconomic diversity. These could include peer reviews, parent and student surveys and other methods, but should not include hastily and poorly-designed standardized tests. In current times, particularly as we experience a shortage of qualified teachers, teachers need to be encouraged, supported and motivated to adopt the most effective learning strategies for their students. They should be allowed to reinforce each student’s individual strengths, encourage outside-the-box thinking and foster curiosity rather than being forced to overemphasize passing standardized tests. Teachers also need to be supported as opposed to penalized when teaching in schools serving high-poverty and other high-needs students, such as those with disabilities and those still learning English.

We support the statements and recommendations made by the Florida Parent Teacher Association of September 29, 2015 and the Florida District School Superintendents of September 25, 2015.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.

Signed by

Shirley Fregly, President, Eastside High School PTSA

Elizabeth Washington, Chair, Eastside High School SAC

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