A testing boondoggle in Florida: On Monday, Michael Winerip penned his final On Education column at the New York Times.
He discussed a statewide testing snafu in Florida.
In recent years, Seminole County’s public schools had been scoring quite well on Florida's statewide tests. Everyone was very pleased.
But here’s what happened next:
WINERIP (6/11/12): Then, last month, the state dropped a bomb. The 2012 scores on the writing test—given to 4th, 8th and 10th graders—plummeted in all districts. Only 27 percent of Florida's fourth graders were rated proficient, compared with 81 percent the year before. In Seminole, 30 percent were proficient, down from 83 percent.As Winerip continues, he described an amazing lack of professional competence as Florida scrambled to clean up its mess. This is simply gruesome:
Something snapped in Dr. Vogel [the Seminole County superintendent]. ''We've all worked so hard to make sure the state testing system is credible and meaningful, but we've reached the tipping point,'' he said. ''The whole system needs to be readdressed.''
The numbers fell so drastically because, as announced last summer, state officials toughened the standards, paying more attention to grammar and spelling as well as to the factual accuracy of supporting details in essays.
But they did not change the scoring system, resulting in a public relations disaster.
WINERIP: The high failure rate was based on measuring proficiency as a score of at least 4.At Winerip describes it, the state’s work is stunningly incompetent. That said, this sort of thing has happened in other states, generally with no attention from the national press.
First, the state considered lowering the cutoff to 3.5.
That would have resulted in a passage rate of about 50 percent. People would probably still be angry.
So on May 15, Florida's education commissioner, Gerard Robinson, held an emergency conference call with State Education Board members, while 800 school administrators from all over Florida listened in. The board voted to lower the cutoff to 3.
Presto! Problem solved. The proficiency rate for fourth graders was now exactly what it had been in the 2010-11 school year, 81 percent.
For 10th graders, the results actually improved, to 84 percent from 80 percent, meaning scores plummeted but proficiency increased.
For years, North Carolina had been praised for rising scores on its statewide tests. Occasionally, naysayers noted that the state's passing rates weren't rising in anything like the same way on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the "gold standard" of educational testing.
Sure enough! In the fall of 2006, North Carolina released results from a new statewide math test, and statewide passing rates plummeted. Chaos and confusion reigned as the number of students rated "proficient" plunged from 90 percent down into the 60s.
A similar boondoggle occurred in the state of New York in 2010.
Winerip is describing gross incompetence in Florida’s testing, not in its instruction. That said, these boondoogles have been remarkable over the years—and the reporting has been virtually nonexistent. This includes the New York Times’ evasion of the major boondoogle which occurred in its own home state.
Everyone says they care about schools. Down through the years, journalistic practice has suggested that nobody actually does.