A better vision, part 1: Zero unnecessary EoY tests -- not 72

Billy note: Over the last few days of the campaign, I'll be going back through a few key priorities and focusing on how my vision is better and more positive than my incumbent opponent's. This focuses on testing. It's part 1.

Clarification: the 1617 number refers to the 2016-17 school year. The actual number of tests is 72.

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You are looking at a webpage on the School District's website titled "District Naming Conventions for 2016-17 Assessments in IBTP."

Click the bold link to go there.

The School District is planning 72 discretionary "End of Year" (EoY) tests for 2016-17. And each of those tests will use the state's Item Bank and Test Platform (IBTP), the poorly written and often malfunctioning bank of test questions that have become a bad joke among Polk teachers and students.

These tests are unnecessary. Most districts, including charter schools and districts in Polk County, run from them like a plague. Lake Wales Charter and McKeel aren't messing around with IBTP for their electives and non-core academic classes. This is one example of a charter school practice that I want to steal. Zero IBTP EoYs are better than 72.

If we are going to do mid-term and final exams, the instructional personnel on the ground should get to write the questions. As they did without incident for the entire history of public education prior to this generation of educational leaders.

Why is the Polk District imposing 72 unnecessary tests on its schools?

It's very hard to get a straight answer. But as I documented last spring, Polk's testing director Heather Wright is perhaps the key statewide architect of the IBTP platform. She came to Polk County two years ago, thanks to Kathryn LeRoy, with a massive $4.3 million grant to write questions for it.

Please see these three pieces from last spring if you really want to get down into the weeds.

http://www.lakelandlocal.com/2016/04/heather-wright-has-powerful-personal-incentives-to-ignore-test-input/

http://www.lakelandlocal.com/2016/04/2-5-million-of-polk-grant-money-for-teachers-outside-polk-county-why/

http://www.lakelandlocal.com/2016/04/heather-wright-has-traveled-or-will-travel-54-times-in-18-months/

Last spring, Citizens for Better Education Leadership (CBEL) thought we had convinced the Polk District to essentially do away with EoYs. In truth, all the District did was change the name to Polk midterm and final exams and shorten them to 45 minutes. We'll continue to have standardized testing for PE and Fine Arts, as well as bunch of other courses.

A recent email went from the District including these three bullet points:

  • "End of Year exams (EOYs) will be replaced in 2016-17 with shorter (45 minute) Polk midterm and final exams.

  • "Polk midterm and final exams are required [bold is from the district] for all students enrolled in courses identified by the district. These are select, high-enrollment courses that do NOT have a state required course assessment (FSA, SSA, EOC)."...

  • ...."TOP/DA schools may have additional requirements for progress monitoring as determined by the Office of School Improvement and school SIP plans (defer to T. Bellamy)"

That final bullet refers to the "Stigmatized 5" schools. As always, the answer to improving the experience and performance at stigmatized schools is....more testing. We must break the test factory mentality.

My incumbent opponent half-heartedly calls for a testing task force. But he already had four years to do it. Nothing happened. At CBEL, we not only recommended a task force to the District months ago, we were putting it into practice. We received no help or meaningful engagement from Hunt Berryman or the District. Indeed, there is no evidence at all that the District wants to work collaboratively with the public or its school-based staff in designing a testing plan. That will change if I'm elected.

There is a School Board work session and regular meeting today in Bartow. I will be there watching quietly.

But if I were a Board member now, I would be requiring my staff -- and especially Heather Wright -- to explain in great detail why they continue to impose 72 unnecessary tests after pretending they wouldn't. And we would talk publicly, in great detail, about Heather Wright's grant, her incentives, and what conflicts of interest they create. Then I would make it clear that I want zero tests not mandated by the state -- and we'd see if there are three other votes. I bet there would be.

You don't need a task force to ask your questions for you, Mr. Berryman. You just need the curiosity, will, and energy to ask them. And that is what's been lacking. That's why I'm running.