December 12, 2023

Sue Kingery Woltanski: If You Give a State a Hammer…

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Sue Kingery Woltanski regularly reports on Florida shenanigans. Here she talks about Jeb Bush’s unending love for his failed A+ plan for school accountability.

In the 1960s, Abraham Kaplan, a Professor of Philosophy at UCLA, urged scientists to exercise good judgment in the selection of appropriate methods for their research. Just because certain methods happen to be handy (say, using standardized test scores to indiscriminately make education decisions?), there’s no assurance that same method is appropriate for all problems. He summed up what became known as “Kaplan’s Law of the Instrument” as

“Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”

This could sum up Florida’s high stakes testing regime where, in the name of “accountability,” standardized test scores are used to determine everything from school and district grades to teacher evaluations, student promotion/retention rates and graduation eligibility. For decades, Florida’s A+ Accountability system has been treated like the sacred cow which must not be touched. High stakes standardized tests are Florida’s hammer, and public school students and teachers continue to get pounded.

As promised in HB1, the Florida Senate has prioritized the deregulation of PreK-12 public schools this session. Senate President Passidomo has made “leveling the playing field” and “reducing bureaucratic red tape” her priority and the Florida Senate is pushing forward with a series of bills.

SB7004 focuses on assessment and accountability. While keeping Florida’s testing regime intact, the bill seeks to:

  • Eliminate the requirement for students to pass the Algebra 1 end of course and grade 10 English Language Arts assessment to earn a standard high school diploma. (Students must still take the state assessments and pass 4 years of Language Arts and Math classes, including Algebra 1 and Geometry, but their diploma won’t be threatened if they don’t pass the state-created standardized assessment.)
  • Allow parental input into 3rd grade promotion/retention decisions (Currently, students are retained in 3rd grade if they fail to score high enough on the state mandated Reading assessment, without parental input.)

The bill’s Staff Analysis is here.

Not surprising, former Governor Jeb Bush, who championed Florida’s A+ plan, is not a fan of SB7004. His recent op-eds encourage lawmakers to stand firm on his signature accountability policies.

His 11/29/23 op-ed in the Sun Sentinel celebrated Florida’s success in national 4th grade Math and Reading scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Florida’s 4th grade success, he says, is directly attributable to the implementation of his A+ Plan, which emphasizes high expectations, standardized measurement, accountability, and choice. He warns that SB7004 will water down these policies and warns “We’ve spent two decades establishing, maintaining and building upon these ideals. Now is not the time for lawmakers to get weak-kneed on policies that have played key roles in contributing to two decades of educational progress.”

[For the record, much of Florida’s 4th  grade success on the NAEP is likely a result of its 3rd grade retention policies – low performing readers are held back a year, artificially elevating 4th grade scores.]

In Bush’s world, all data requires more commitment to his idea. Read the full post here. 

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