$2.5 million of “Polk” grant money for teachers “outside Polk County”? Why?

I’ve just started reading through Heather Wright’s testing grant. The actual name of the grant is “CTE Hard to Measure Test Items.” It provides for just short of $4.3 million in its amended form.

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“Hard to Measure” is apparently an educratic term — like “Local Instructional Improvement System” (LIIS), which we’ll come to soon, but not today. I’m not entirely sure what “Hard to Measure” means as a proper noun; but I’ll figure it out.

This is the full application from 2014.

New_CTE Grant Application Nov 3 2014 submitted

This is the slightly amended final award.


Take a look if you have particular expertise and see if you notice anything that would affect Wright’s judgement or incentives in administering district End of Year (EoY) tests — or requiring that district-level EoYs, which are not required by the state, count for 30 percent of a final grade.

I noticed this almost immediately.

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The grant spends far more than half of its money outside Polk County. Indeed, roughly $2.5 million is specifically earmarked for “contracted services for approximately 300 teachers and industry professionals outside of Polk County to develop, write, review and proofread assessment items for the CTE RTTT Grant Program.” [My emphasis]

Is this standard, grant writers/test item developers? I’m asking you. I genuinely don’t know. Is there some rule that you must spend money outside your county on a project like this?

Because I find it odd that the head of testing and accountability for Polk County schools would bring a $4.3 million grant to her new place of work — and then promptly spend virtually all of that money elsewhere, except, of course, for the money she spent on herself. Then again, she lives in proximity to Lake Buena Vista; so that’s “outside Polk County,” too.

In my cursory review of this, I have developed a working hypothesis.

Heather Wright, in her disastrous tenure as Polk County’s testing/accountability director, was not, in fact, acting as Polk County’s testing/accountability director. She was, for all practical purposes, a contractor for the Florida Department of Education, running a state-funded incubator around a testing/question platform. She was using our facilities, benefitting (I assume) from our insurance, and using our teachers, students, and community as the captive audience for her blinkered notions of educratic entrepreneurism. And her product sucked. It still sucks.

It’s hard to imagine how that person will allow for any reform in the local interests of Polk County students, teachers, and parents. Perhaps Jacque Bowen can explain that to me. She seems to complain about our misconceptions. Please, by all means Jacque, concept me accurately.

With that in mind, I’d like to reprint the most awesome heckle I’ve ever received in a comment. It’s an angry response to yesterday’s piece about Heather Wright (there will be more). It’s from a person calling him/herself “Ally.” I guess it’s a defense of Wright. I suspect it’s someone who works for her — or knows her from educrat circles or socially. Maybe it’s a family member. I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. But it’s pretty obvious this person does not live here — and has no investment in our children or community well-being.

Here it is:

Billy Bob,

There are so many problems with this article (and you), I hardly know where to start.

1) For residents outside Polk County, your articles only reinforce the “People of Little Knowledge” stereotype. Your admitted ignorance and disregard of the facts and processes involved in meaningful assessment suggest that the Polk County school you graduated from didn’t test you enough…

2) Clearly, you have too much time on your hands and a suppressed anger issue. Did mommy abuse you, did daddy drink too much, or did your ex-wife leave you heart-broken? Your articles are not objective reporting, good journalism, or even persuasive writing. They are personal vendettas and attacks that reek of resentment and impotency. Why don’t you devote your time to CONSTRUCTIVE ways to improve your school district and state policy, like writing and meeting with Florida politicians and finding ways to facilitate open and non-threatening communication between district leaders, school leaders, teachers and parents?

3) The appropriate response to a misconception – oh, I’m sorry, is that too big a word? Let me give you the layperson’s – oops, I did it again – the country bumpkin’s definition of misconception – “faulty thinking or understanding” – is factual and accurate information. But I guess you prefer to believe the earth is flat and your neighbors were abducted by aliens, because after all, that is what the people around you believe to be true.

4) I wish I had time to correct all your flawed and false statements about assessments, but I actually have a life.

As fun as that is; and as gratifying as it is to find myself in the head of our useless educrat class; I actually reprint it mostly to contrast it with another comment from a teacher named Laura:

Here’s my favorite IBTP experience:

Last year was our first year using IBTP. I teach 11th grade language arts, and all the way up until about March my students were slated to take the FSA. Under that assumption, my kids used another computer platform for progress monitoring (days taken away from instruction so we could see how ready they were for the test). I don’t know if the progress monitoring was required by the state or district. As a teacher I only had to use IBTP to enter scores from progress monitoring.

About a month before the test, the state changed its mind and my students no longer had to take the FSA, so we were informed that our students would now take an EoY (which I guess would be magically created and ready in two months’ time). The EoY was administered on–you guessed it–the IBTP. Many teachers at my school, myself included, logged on to the IBTP to look around and see what it was like from a testing perspective, because we need to be able to help our students when they have questions. We found the actual EoY test available, which we discovered only after we clicked on the link that consisted of a bunch of letters and numbers and did not indicate that it took you to the actual test. A couple weeks later, during a faculty meeting, we were told that the test is a secure document and the district would be looking to see who had accessed the test, and may implement disciplinary action against those teachers. As far as I know, no one was actually disciplined, but the threatening “you’re going to get in trouble for looking at something on a secure site you accessed through your district login credentials” is indicative of the district atmosphere. Because, you know, nothing says “relatively smooth implementation” like “oops we placed a secure document where lots of people could access it and didn’t clearly mark it or in any way tell them not to look at it.”

Regarding the policy for scoring EoYs and converting those scores to grades: another fun feature of the IBTP is that it tells you your score after you’re done with the test. Imagine you’ve finished the test you know is going to count for 30% of your grade, and you’re informed you got a 65%. You would be understandably devastated. But wait–that’s your raw score! After the district has scaled your score, you actually got an A! And oops, the district meant to turn off the reporting feature so you didn’t see that raw score, because you “wouldn’t understand it” (also neither would your teachers because they have been told literally nothing about the scoring process beyond that the district would handle it). Also…some courses are still using teacher created EoYs and are allowed to score and curve them as they see fit (providing a totally level playing field for those teachers and students compared to district-tested students). Also, a couple of classes don’t have EoYs at all, like AP classes. Yes, AP students take a national exam, thus eliminating the need for district or state tests–but they are in no way tied to student grades. AP scores are, however, tied to teacher evaluations, which tells you what the real purpose of the EoYs is–and it’s not the measure student achievement.

Just compare the tones. And the seriousness. The basic decency.

You’re looking at the reason I decided long ago to side with teachers (who are not perfect, by any means) and kids and parents (who are also not perfect) over educrats too cowardly to eat their own dogfood. I can’t abide people like Ally having power and impunity over their moral betters in the endlessly stupid and pointless “reform” wars.

And with that in mind, I have to apologize to Laura and so many other people out there. It’s dawning on me just how truly cataclysmic the Kathryn LeRoy hire was. We’re going to be digging out from it for a decade, at least. We’re going to need money; public involvement; perseverance; patience; all these things and more.

When the School Board hired Jacksonville’s castoff party girl and brought her here to belittle us, I wasn’t paying much attention. I was focused on LPD, the Drug War, charter school cheating. I barely even followed the search that led to LeRoy’s hiring. I doubt I could have stopped it; but I should have tried. And I should have been on her — and Heather Wright’s motivations — from the start. I wasn’t. I dropped the ball; and I’m sorry.

I’m trying now. And if we’re going to start digging out of this hole, we need to snatch the shovel out of Heather Wright’s hands. Now.

13 thoughts on “$2.5 million of “Polk” grant money for teachers “outside Polk County”? Why?

  1. I’m thankful that you’ve picked the ball up now. Polk County needs you!

  2. Wow! Teachers have an advocate. And, it seems that the advocate is knowledgeable, articulate, and ready to express his opinions without being concerned about being politically correct. Most importantly, I detect a sense of integrity.

  3. I imagine the grant “moved” to Polk because the grant administrator moved to a job in Polk. That’s why Osceola didn’t mind losing it. The grant was never about improving Osceola schools.

    Question: when are EOC/EOY exams given? I was mentoring a HS student last school year whose final was weeks before the end of classes (I don’t know whether it was EOC or EOY), so that all the mandatory topics had to be covered by then. Is that common? Is it a state or district requirement, or could the high school have done that on its own? The result was that the last month of class was not covered by the exam.

    • There are Windows for each subject. Eoc’s start next week, but woe to those teachers who aren’t teaching new material through the end of school

  4. Please stay on this! Testing is a monster that eats up our time, and many of us had no idea the 30% was not state mandated or uniform. The scale score will be done as a bell curve, so regardless if everyone does amazing (not likely) or everyone fails (more likely), some of my students will get an A, and some will get an F. If the tests (state or local) were truly valid, this scaling would not be necessary

  5. Maybe the district can hire more consults, again, to tell us what we already know. Let’s start righting our fiscal issues by putting a moratorium on paying consultants for the next school year. If you can’t do the job you’re hired to do, may you be swiftly escorted to the door. District administrators, if you haven’t spent at least a month on Polk high school grounds during school hours this year, you’re not equipped with the knowledge to understand the rigors of the daily adventure our teachers and students endure every day; let alone make operational decisions. If you want to increase communication in a “factual form”, all non-instructional staff need to spend one day, every quarter of the school year in classrooms. You can’t even facilitate factual communication between the district divisions; let alone to the staff on the front lines. So the next time you wish to insult our underpaid, over worked support staff with your immediate, imminent deadlines, spare us your less than factual rhetoric. For heaven’s sake, hurry and get us another logo design and motto underway cause we know that’s some factual communication that will directly impact student achievement. Maybe we should eliminate the board members names and Super’s name from official documents and signs, so we can stop spending money every year to replace the outdated letter head because our school board is either too incompetent or too arrogant to listen to taxpayers. It the taxpayers of Polk had a penny for every piece of printer paper that was filed in the trash or recycled over the past six years, we might have enough to give our teachers a raise.

  6. So Ally wants a constructive way to improve the school system: Stop pretending to communicate by using convoluted, run-on strings of gobbledygook! Simple is always better. Practitioners of educationese are either trying to show how they are so much better than the person receiving the information, or they are hiding the real information or they simply don’t really understand their subject. MS Wright and the persons who approved that memo would get a “F” in a communications class! Did anyone in Polk vet these people?

  7. I say to all who read this: GET INVOLVED. The students of this county NEED you to speak up for them NOW. Join the Citizens for Better Educational Leadership group, get knowledgeable on this subject (Billy has done a fabulous job of explaining things but sometimes its better understood in person) and contact your school board members to let them know this will not be tolerated. Contact Ms. Byrd, the superintendent. Contact Heather Wright, the head of testing. All e-mail addresses and phone numbers can be found at http://www.polk-fl.net. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!

    • I absolutely agree with Cass!

      It is time for everyone to get involved and to let everyone know that ENOUGH is ENOUGH! What is happening behind the scenes to your child and the teachers of this community is incomprehensible. Still yet, the School Board fails to listen to citizens/teachers although they ask for input in their own public meetings.

  8. Pearson, for example, will not use Florida teachers to write Florida items because of potential conflicts of interest (you could have unfair advance knowledge of test items). Same thing here, if the items are being written for Polk County. My guess, anyway

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