Jac Wilder VerSteeg: State's 30 percent decision on math tests is 100 percent bad

An underlying purpose of public education reform is providing a clear-eyed view of student achievement.

The system will not cringe from telling students when they need to do better. The system will not cringe from telling parents their kids need to do better. The system will not cringe from telling teachers they need to teach better.

Standards will be standards – whether they be called Sunshine State Standards, Florida Standards or Common Core Standards.

But Florida, a pioneer in the uncringing devotion to standards, is cringing – and just plain messing up – once again.

The Legislature passed a law requiring that standardized end-of-course exams count for 30 percent of students’ grades in key math courses. The law was supposed to be in effect for this year. But the Department of Education has just issued a “Never Mind” memo as follows:

“Because of the unavailability of independently verified statewide assessment results in Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry, the statutory requirement to include these results in the final course grade are inoperative.”

This should not be a surprise. Educators and parents warned the Legislature that it was moving too fast. There would be no way to ensure the state exams – on which so much would depend – would be valid and consistent.

The Legislature did not listen. It was more important to impose standards than it was to impose workable standards. So now, because the tests can’t be verified in time, the segment of the law regarding those math exams is “inoperative.”

This will be wonderful news for students who did badly on the exams. Those squeaking by with a D will not be tipped into F territory by 30 percent of awful. Those kids get a reprieve.

“As a result” of the state’s inability to do its job concerning the tests, the memo says, “school districts should calculate final course grades and make promotion decisions without regard to the 30 percent requirement that typically applies.”

Hallelujah.

But what about kids who were failing math but were this close to getting a passing grade if only they did well enough on the end-of-course test? For those students, the 30 percent requirement would be a life-saver – or at least a way to avoid repeating the class.

Never fear, they are in for good news too. The memo instructs districts that once valid scores are available, the district can recalculate grades for “all students for whom the recalculation results in an advantage.”

This ad hoc policy should be embarrassing for a state that, as far back as Gov. Jeb Bush, had vowed to end “social promotion.”

Kids who would have failed if the end-of-course exam had counted for 30 percent will instead be promoted. A core requirement of these math courses has instead been turned into a mere bonus question – you get points if you get it right but no penalty if you get it wrong.

This is not the first time Florida’ politics-driven education “standards” have been fudged. The state Board of Education jiggled all kinds of rules to prevent too many schools from receiving bad letter grades.

Now the practice continues. Fudging probably is more fair than imposing faulty measures, but it’s not good.

The message is that standards don’t really matter. Perhaps it is impossible to expect high education standards when the standards for creating those standards are so low.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg is editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Jac VerSteeg



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