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Pasco County teachers raise concerns about fairness of district finals

With classes ending in a week, Pasco County students have been taking district-designed course finals, tests that exist primarily because state law requires them to help evaluate teacher effectiveness.

As they trickle in, the results haven't been pretty. Similar to first semester district finals, these ones are bringing in average scores in the 60s and lower, according to teachers who have seen the data.

And they think they know why. The tests, they are telling officials, do not measure what students are learning.

The officials are listening. They called for a workshop on the district finals, to examine the teachers' concerns and discuss if a new approach or philosophy is needed. But they declined to criticize the model, saying they wanted more information first.

The criticisms have been stark.

"The test results (when even available) have never informed my instruction the following year," Sunlake High creative writing and English teacher Amy Ramos wrote to the superintendent. "It's just been a reality we have endured. Never have my students felt it was a fair measure of their growth and achievements. Never have these tests asked them to write a single word."

She offered the example of one of her honors students:

"I have a student who took the honors physics district final and scored a 31%. The district average is a 38%. She reports that the reference sheet was incomplete, missing necessary formulas and including questions about topics not included in the curriculum that was taught. She says her teacher is excellent, and this teacher is also our AP teacher, by the way. This same student also took the honors prob and stats math final and scored a 48%. So her report card will show an F for this final exam, but it won't show her parents that she actually scored above average. (The district average so far is a 42%.)"

Land O'Lakes High social studies teacher Robert Marsh told the School Board this week how students in his Legal Procedures course took a district final that had nothing to do with the subject.

"Apparently it's a civics test," Marsh said, holding up two textbooks he said did not come into consideration on the final. "It has nothing to do with procedure."

The issue is the same across several topics, United School Employees of Pasco president Kenny Blankenship told the board. And then, making matters worse, he said, the exams count as 10 percent of student report card grades.

"Using these scores in this way has an enormous negative impact on our students," suggested Land O'Lakes High math teacher Pat Connolly, who observed that the 28.5 percent average score on the district Liberal Arts Math 2 test was awfully close to the score you'd get with random guessing.

Connolly said he helped write some of the district's upper-level math tests, and never did it come up that the results would not be curved. He and others have urged district officials to do that, at the very least.

"These scores weighted at 10% of students' overall average for a yearlong class, if left as they are, will not only negatively impact their GPA but also potentially impact their scholarship opportunities, college admissions, and at the very worst, graduation," Gulf High School language arts teacher Tanya Fuss wrote in an email to the superintendent and board.

"Please consider curving the scores as Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties have done. Doing so, will hold our students harmless," she continued. "As a parent of a rising 9th grader, I understand that we need accountability for learning, but I want my daughter to take tests that accurately measure what she has learned. As a taxpayer, I am concerned and hope that the District takes steps to accurately measure our students' levels of learning."

Superintendent Kurt Browning said it was not the administration's idea to give the tests or to count them as 10 percent of students' grades. The tests arose from state law, which requires districts to use student data to evaluate teacher performance, he said.

As for the 10 percent, "the teachers on the (district student progression plan) committee pushed for that, so the students would take it seriously, is what we're told," Browning said. 

He said he would welcome different ideas for how to evaluate teachers with data, and added that proposals should go through that same committee so rule changes do not become arbitrary.

District assessment director Peggy Jones added the results that teachers are seeing in the district's databases will get a thorough analysis, to determine whether they conform to students' past performance, among other measures.

The test questions have been evaluated and reviewed for validity and accuracy, and will continue to get scrutiny, she added.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the complaints, though pointed, have not been widespread. Blankenship suggested that more could be coming, though.

The board has not yet set its workshop date.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 2:16pm]


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