There Are 5 FCAT Levels, Not 3. So Stop Grading The Wealthy On A Curve.

There’s a key difference between the way I calculate a school or district’s “performance” on the FCAT test and the way the geniuses at DOE do it in their school/district grades and rankings.

For me, it’s pretty simple. What’s the average score of the group of kids in question? I then plot that against the free and reduced lunch population of the group. Given enough schools or classes or districts to form a pattern, I can tell you who is overperforming relative to peers and who is underperforming.

It’s pretty easy, really. And I’m feeling better and better about its quality, especially when compared to the Rube Goldberg hokum that the state keeps conjuring to help wealthy people sneer at the unwealthy.

Let’s look at the state-tabulated rankings that came out yesterday.

Nowhere in DOE’s school or district grade criteria is the word “score” ever mentioned. Instead, school/district rankings rise and fall based on the percentage of kids who reach a certain score threshold, plus the percentage of kids in different categories who make gains.

The key to becoming “successful” is to have as many of your students as possible reach a threshold called Level 3. Doing that accounts for half of your score. If you can figure out what the numerical score required for a kid to reach Level 3 in 2011 was, you’re a better volunteer reporter than me. The absurd test re-engineering they’re doing in Tally is baffling. I’m sure that’s by design. Complexity, especially willful complexity, is fraud. Remember that.

It’s not even clear to me what “Level 3” means to the state because it changes year-to-year, even in DOE’s official literature In 2008, it meant:

“This student has partial success with the challenging content of the Sunshine State Standards, but performance is inconsistent. A student scoring in Level 3 answers many of the test questions correctly but is generally less successful with questions that are the most challenging.”

In 2012, it means:

“Students at this level demonstrate a satisfactory level of success with the challenging content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.”

WTF?

With that in mind, let’s consider St. Johns County, Florida’s richest. It had a 17 percent FRL population in 10th grade Math in 2011, for example. My data shows that St. Johns County is Florida’s single most underachieving school district, by far. But DOE considers it the best, by far.

What accounts for this difference? Level 3 accounts for the difference. As you can see from the links above, FCAT scoring levels do not stop at Level 3. Levels 4 and 5 also exist. But you would not know that from looking at DOE’s grade methodology. It does not factor into its grades/rankings the percentage of kids who reach Levels 4 and 5. They may as well not exist.

And yet, they exist. In 2012, they mean:

“Level 4: Students at this level demonstrate an above satisfactory level of success with the challenging content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

Level 5: Students at this level demonstrate mastery of the most challenging content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.”

So you see what’s going on here. Performance essentially stops counting for a school or district once it reaches a certain mediocre standard.

I’ll give you a real world example of how this works by comparing the McKeel schools and Lakeland Montessori in 2010 3rd grade reading.

In that combination, Lakeland Montessori scored a 411. That’s pretty good. And it should be, considering the absence of poverty at my son’s little no-homework hippy school. No self-congratulation here. The McKeel elementary schools scored 356 and 336. That’s OK on its face, but not if you consider the absence of poverty at those schools. LMS outscored South McKeel by 75 points. That’s a greater gap than the gap between South McKeel and Dundee, which the had the county’s lowest score at 270. And yet, the McKeels and LMS get the same silly “A” grade every year. The state makes no effort whatsoever to evaluate and publicize the performance of wealthy schools, relative to each other. That should stop. But it won’t. Too much fragile self-image bound up in it.

Again, it is difficult to quantify today’s Level 3 in useful terms because of the utter incomprehensibility and incompetence of the state DOE that conservative government has created. But I think Level 3 in 2010 ran roughly from 284-330. That’s what it says on the 2008 fact sheet I linked to above. That’s pretty low, in relative terms. Today, they give FCAT score in four digits; and it’s all a mess. And for good measure, they’ve changed the verbal definition of Level 3. But the wealth correlations I’ve discovered with FCAT score suggest to me that at a certain level of wealth, most English-speaking kids could just stumble out of bed and get to Level 3 without ever talking to a teacher.

And yet, that’s the Level the state uses to determine “excellence”, as well as failure. Level 4 and 5 are superfluous for the annual school grades or for this blinkered ranking. The state makes no effort to make distinctions between schools that score anywhere above that level. And that level is pretty easy to get. Most students in the state, at all schools, get to Level 3. And then we basically stop counting. That’s the standard rich schools and districts use to celebrate themselves, never having to worry about how their little darlings perform above that level. There’s no effort to compare the McDumps and LMSs to each other. You have to work really hard to do it. Trust me. I’ve got the hours to prove it.

Why is that?

Could it be that the entire evaluation apparatus is designed to appeal to the self image of the comparatively wealthy? That it’s designed to focus scrutiny on poorer and less sophisticated people while wealthier people receive comforting pillow talk about their mediocrity? Sure looks that way.

Let’s imagine 2010 3rd grade reading in a world where Level 4 and Level 5 carry some accountability. LMS would have been a Level 5, the McKeels a Level 4. Why shouldn’t we expect all schools below 30 percent FRL to reach Level 5. And label them as failing if they don’t? Remember, Level 3 is “satisfactory”. Level 4 is “above satisfactory”. Level 5 is “mastery”.

Tell me, leadership class, why are you content to have schools judged by how many kids are “satisfactory” while ignoring “above satisfactory” and “mastery?” I thought you wanted your kids challenged. Cackle. Silly me.

Can you imagine if we tied FRL percentage to expectation of Level performance in calculating a school and district’s grade? You would hear the howls of the Christina hordes all the way to Kathleen. There would be a Brooks Brothers riot up there in Ponte Vedra Beach.

If we tied FRL to Level with real accountability, do you think Rep. Kelly Stargel, R-McKeel, would be able to name her school “high performing” and help it expand and get Harold Maready another payday?

That’s why it ain’t gonna happen.

Our state prefers to channel Tolstoy: All wealthy schools are the same. All unwealthy schools are unwealthy in their own way.

The wealthy “conservatives” that run our state want their kids graded on a curve and everybody else’s subjected to endless crap. Period. And way too often, good egalitarian liberals play along. God forbid you fall on the far side of the Medulla-Scott Lake gap. Our principles only go so far. That goes for me too.

You doubt we grade on a curve? Go take a look at the great St. Johns County again.

Its best percentage in any of the categories is 89. Its lowest goes down to 61. Not one of those percentages would earn it an A in any Florida classroom. Why does it earn an A with the conservative state bureaucracy? Could it be the grades have no meaning?

That 61, by the way, comes in the percentage of kids in the lowest 25 percent who make learning gains. Just want to point out again that St. Johns County is Florida’s richest. In 2011, its 10th grade math sample had 17 percent FRL. That’s ridiculous. So in some instances, its bottom 25 percent includes kids that aren’t even poor. It’s the difference between a one-story mcmansion and a two-story.

And one final note for local bureaucrats and teachers and principals and politicians. You will never, ever change this by whining about how it’s unfair. It is designed to be unfair. That’s its intent. They want to call you whiners. They want you to spend your time and effort defending yourself and offering qualifications. If you’re explaining, you’re losing. Politics 101. And this is nothing but politics. Education has nothing to do with it. I hope I’ve given you some ammunition with which to declare and challenge, not explain. But you will have to do it yourself. I’m just a local volunteer reporter. And no one listens to me. I’m well aware.

If you don’t like this stuff, your only hope of changing it, in my humble opinion, is to attack the mediocrity and incompetence of the McKeels of the world. You have to attack their fear of being judged in a world where LMS and McDump are not considered the same, where wealthy schools are actually held accountable for how they “challenge” their wealthy kids. It’s unseemly, yes. But they are doing it to you every day. Fight back. Dare them to make grading simple and to tie FRL population to upper level achievement. You want to game your enrollment, McDump? Fine. You better produce. Like we do. That’s a much better argument, than “Oh, performance is complex, yada, yada, yada. Don’t be mean to us.”

Nice and measured won’t cut it. They want you to be nice. No one ever won a truce without fighting for it. The class war over schools is no different.

11 thoughts on “There Are 5 FCAT Levels, Not 3. So Stop Grading The Wealthy On A Curve.

  1. This reminds me of how brighter students tend to get overlooked in a typical classroom because the teacher has to teach to the lowest common denominator. Everyone is so focused on the “low performing” (aka poor) students that the higher performing students (aka rich) get overlooked. It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but I think both school grades and this type of classroom management come from the same place.

  2. I understand that point; and it’s valid. But I disagree a little. 

    Level 3 isn’t an indicator of the brighter kids. Its just slightly above a minimum standard. And yet the wealthy schools of the world are content to crow about it. Or at the very least, they’re content not to try to change it to place themselves under the same stress and pressure that less wealthy schools face. They don’t want the kind of scrutiny that most other schools get. They care more about avoiding it than they do challenging their kids and evaluating themselves as to whether they do. They care more about calling themselves “high performing” than being “high performing.”This is a symptom with of the core disease of scoreboard education, as I see it. Test scores as school measure function only as a markers of status and class identification. If I were wrong, and they believed their own propaganda, the elite class schools would be imposing greater standards on themselves. But they won’t. Because that means they would get Cs and Ds. And you can’t brag to your friends about that and talk about what a good parent you are.I think the burden is on them to prove me wrong on that. I’ve made my case.

  3. If you really want the Developmental Scale Scores (DSS) for 2011, which decides the levels 1-5, I will get it for you.  It should be noted that the state is again increasing the point thresholds for each level this year.  As you might imagine, the district is pretty nervous about this. 

    • Yes, I am aware that the state is rejiggering the test in a way guaranteed to make poorer schools look worse. Willing to bet they won’t expect anything more of the wealthy schools.

      I would like to see the 2011 framework for levels. These would be in the 4-digit format now?

  4. Billy, Point of Contention: Should we assume that poor students are less bright than rich students? It seems to me that by judging schools on their Free and Reduced Meals ratio, we’re accepting that coming “straight outta Locash” means you’re not expected to perform as well as those coming from richer areas. Therefore comparing these poor neighborhood schools (more free lunches) to rich neighborhood schools (less free lunches), and being amazed at how the “poor” schools fare against the “rich” schools, we’re perpetuating a bias that is merely imagined, not actual.

    I’d like to know if you have any thoughts on this, including if you think I’ve interpreted this point in your article(s) incorrectly… and if so, why.

    Thanks.

    • I don’t think testing remotely equates to brightness. So judging test results is not a good way of addressing brightness. This is a really, really complex question that I plan on addressing eventually in greater detail, and I don’t want to shorthand it here. But here’s one example of my point: What if we tested proficiency with a second language? I think the testing result patterns would look considerably different than they do now. Would the seocnd kids habe consodered brighter?

      But here’s  

      • Sorry, garbled at the end. My final sentence should read: Would the second language kids be “brighter” than the non second language kids? Just one example.

  5. I think we’re going to need a piece just to define the terms of the argument/debate. If testing doesn’t have any bearing on brightness, the whole series is moot, regardless of whether smart/dumb equates to paid/free lunches. I suppose we could go further and say all grades are moot, since they’re based on testing. While testing certainly isn’t the end-all be-all of intellectual competence, it’s usually a decent measuring stick of one’s knowledge. I know I would consider someone who spoke two languages to have more intelligence in the verbal area of knowledge, therefore considered brighter, than someone who speaks only one language.

    • Correct on your first sentence. But even if testing has no meaning related to “brightness”, the series is not moot. If you’ll remember, I asked at the start of my “Florida Has a Crisis…” piece what is the point of testing? The way it’s used in Florida, I argue, is to rate performance of teachers, not students. With that in mind, a kid’s inherent “brightness” shouldn’t matter to a teacher’s performance. Only what she/he does with the raw material. And that’s not being measured currently. He or she lives an dies with the patterns the kids brings with him or her, which only in the tiniest, narrowest sense translate into a score on some inane test dreamed up by a corporate test maker.

      I will be writing this with myself as an example at some point. It’s just going to take me a while.

    • Correct on your first sentence. But even if testing has no meaning related to “brightness”, the series is not moot. If you’ll remember, I asked at the start of my “Florida Has a Crisis…” piece what is the point of testing? The way it’s used in Florida, I argue, is to rate performance of teachers, not students. With that in mind, a kid’s inherent “brightness” shouldn’t matter to a teacher’s performance. Only what she/he does with the raw material. And that’s not being measured currently. He or she lives an dies with the patterns the kids brings with him or her, which only in the tiniest, narrowest sense translate into a score on some inane test dreamed up by a corporate test maker.

      I will be writing this with myself as an example at some point. It’s just going to take me a while.

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