I am interrupting my review of the book, The Testing Charade (Daniel Koretz, 2017) to address something taking place in Florida with the release of school grades. And yet, I am going to use the book to talk about it: scrubbing, that is, the practice of removing students not likely to score well from a test’s population.

“The method of choice was to exclude from testing students who were likely to score poorly, a technique that is often called ‘scrubbing’ because it entails removing the worrisome students from enrollment rolls.” (The Testing Charade, Daniel Koretz, page 74.)

In the early days of testing, this was easy to do. Tell the questionable students to stay home until the testing window closed. Suspend the misbehaving students. By whatever means, keep them off school property until testing was done.

States counteracted this by setting minimum percentages of students who must test, usually 95%.

Schools reacted by disenrolling the worrisome students and then re-enrolling them once the test window closed. They utilized school choice (an ironic twist) to counsel low-performing students to leave for charter schools or other options such as homeschooling. Charters play the same game, of course, and counsel out low-performers to return to their traditional schools.

Scrubbing is real and it’s wrong. Other forms entail schools and districts devising means to maneuver students around tested courses. For example, until Florida discontinued the Algebra 2 End-of-Course exam, districts began scheduling students with poor Geometry performance into a course called ‘Advanced Topics’ so that they could bypass Algebra 2 on their way to amassing the required math credits for their diplomas.

The state was complicit in this because, unless the state created an approved course in its catalog, the dodge course would not have been available to districts.

Districts also reviewed their mid-year benchmark tests for Algebra 1. Students scoring lower than what projected to a passing grade on that EOC were rescheduled into Algebra 1A so they would not have to take the exam. (In this instance, though, the state had the schools by the throat; passing the Algebra 1 EOC is a diploma requirement and sooner or later, students have to pass it.)

The same goes on with graduation rates. Schools routinely refer students not on track to graduate to leave the school and enroll in other programs to complete their education and receive their diplomas.

Campbell’s Law rearing its hydra-like heads; cut one off and three more grow in its place.

“‘The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.’ In other words, when you hold people accountable using a numerical measure–vehicle emissions, scores on a test, whatever–two things generally happen: they do things you don’t want them to do, and the measure itself becomes inflated …” (Koretz, page 38.)

Now to the controversy of the week. A conservative school board group, which may be composed of as few as five members, have questioned the Civics EOC results in three Florida districts: Duval, Polk, and Manatee Counties. Conservative School Board Group Questions Civics Results in 3 Counties

Soon thereafter, six lawmakers weighed in to demand an investigation. Here is the text of their letter:

Dear Commissioner Stewart:

It has come to our attention that allegations have been raised regarding Duval, Manatee and Polk County school districts potentially undermining the integrity of our state’s public school accountability system through employing questionable testing practices on the state end-of-course exam in civics. 

While we should all celebrate increases in student achievement, particularly in civics, we must ensure the results are earned with integrity. Otherwise, as we are sure you would agree, we are doing a complete disservice to our children.

As reported by multiple Jacksonville media outlets, the districts are accused of restricting certain students from participating in the state end-of-course civics exam in an effort to artificially inflate their final school grades. Not only are these allegations alarming, but we are fearful there may be other districts engaging in these same shameful practices. 

As parents of public school students and taxpayers, we share skepticism of the three counties’ testing practices with the public, and now we want to know more. In the interest of transparency of our public education system and the children it serves, we have the following questions for these districts and for your department:

1.                Were any students enrolled in a civics course during the 2017-18 school year prevented by any of these districts from taking the required Civics End-Of-Course exam? 

2.                When and how was it determined which students would sit for the exam and which ones would not? 

3.                Who at the district level made this determination?

4.                Some schools are employing these dishonest tactics specifically to game the school grading system, especially those schools seeking to avoid the implications of the Schools of Hope interventions. Others do it to unscrupulously collect school improvement funds every other year, while student achievement never actually improves. How will manipulation of the system and avoidance of accountability be addressed by your department?

5.                Are there ways FLDOE could penalize a school or district found guilty of these tactics by lowering its final grade and/or withholding any school grade improvement funding?

Upon receipt of your answers, we plan to work with you, your colleagues at the Florida Department of Education, the governor and our legislative colleagues to review and improve existing state testing policies to ensure these dishonest and unethical practices do not happen again. 

Florida’s public schools have improved more than any other state in the last 20 years due in large part to A-F school grading and the transparency it brings to parents, taxpayers and the public. However, we will not see sustained growth if certain adults running the system are more committed to their own interests than the interests of the students they serve. 

We look forward to your response and appreciate your leadership and immediate attention to this matter. (Source: The Tampa Bay Times, use the link above to confirm.)

Take a good look at item 4 and the unfounded accusations thrown out with no supporting evidence.

We must ask ourselves: did the three districts and possibly others engage in scrubbing?

The answer is NO. They did not game the system by removing students in ways such that the students would never be tested. They did determine that many students needed more preparation in their studies and arranged their schedules accordingly.

Every 7th grade student who did not take the Civics EOC this year will take it next year as an 8th grade student.

The Florida Department of Education has already acknowledged that this is allowable by the law. Students must take the Civics EOC at some time during their years in middle school. The exact grade level is not specified.

Ya know, in the education biz, we call this differentiation of instruction to meet every student’s needs. Too bad we have lawmakers in Florida ignorant of the concept, even if they once served as a school board member.

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