The Polk punisher: Heather Wright’s personal incentives to ignore us — and you

Polk County has chosen — seemingly gratuitously — to punish its students for their performance on End of Year (EoY) and End of Course (EoC) tests. This punishment stands out among other districts that have chosen not to level this same level of punishment. It matters deeply for your child’s grade point average, which, in turn, matters deeply for graduation, college admission, and scholarships.

This is a complex thing to explain. I’ll try to do it clearly and briefly, while noting what I still don’t fully grasp.

Bright futures hopefuls take careful note

An EoC is a state-mandated final test for a subject, like, say, Algebra. Not all classes require a state EoC. An EoY test is a local-district-mandated test. I remain unclear as to whether a local district is required to give any EoY tests. They may all be voluntary. But I’m not sure. Still working on that.

The state requires that its EoCs account for 30 percent of a class grade. But, to my understanding, the state does not tell districts how to come up with the number that makes up the 30 percent. Wait, you might say, wouldn’t you just use the 93 A score you would get for getting 93 our of 100 questions right?

No, it seems you wouldn’t. Not in Florida. The tests are not graded like the final exams of yore. In the recent past, I am told Polk County used 1-4 system to indicate state EoC performance. Here’s the significance of that: if your student earned As in both semesters of a class — and received a B-level or 3-level grade on the EoC, that student would still get an A for the year.

I am told that has changed. I’m not sure when, precisely. And I don’t trust Heather Wright’s Polk District accountability department to be honest about anything. (More on that in a moment.) So I’m not going to bother asking. Someone can just correct me if they feel the need. The new system of EoC grading uses 95-85-75-etc scale for performance. If you’re like me, and you say, how the hell would that even work in relation to an actual EoC test grade?, I don’t have any answers for you. The practical effect is to make the B-level performance (the 85) suck your student’s A-level class grade down to a B overall. As I understand it, that is in effect now. Please correct me if this is wrong. Multiple people have told this to me.

That’s the core disadvantage the School District is choosing to impose on its students with EoCs as they compete with the students of other districts. But it gets worse with EoYs.

Again, I’m not sure if we are required to impose any EoYs at the district level. If we are not, I would urge us to trash them all.

However, there is definitely no requirement that we make a district-level EoY worth 30 percent of a student’s final grade. We, in Polk County, have chosen to do that. Please ask Heather Wright and Jacque Bowen why. Their email addresses are easy to get from the District’s website. By contrast, for instance, St Johns County, which is generally considered “the best” School District in the state makes its EoYs worth 10 percent for high school kids and 5 percent for middle schoolers. Take a look at this link for a glimpse of a high-performing district that gives a shit about its kids and the classroom experience.

Your kids are competing against those kids with artificially-generated Bs where they get As. Period.

To compound matters, Polk uses the same blinkered 95-85-75-system for EoYs. It appears to be impossible to score a 100 on an EoC or EoY test because the 95-85-75-etc. level system is percentile based — meaning it’s measured against other kids, not an objective standard for passing or failing.

I will admit that I’m not sure of that. It seems crazy that only a set number of kids can score the highest score on an EoC or EoY. Maybe I’ve misunderstood. I almost doubt that even Wright’s office would do something that nuts. But the School District’s web site is completely incomprehensible, so I can’t tell. It does seem as if, at some point, they “scaled” — otherwise known as “rigged” — the test to reflect the same distribution as actual grades achieved in class. But it’s a baffling thing to try to determine.

And with that in mind, it’s important to remember that teachers do not compile or administer these tests in any meaningful way. Rather, the person who conceives and administers these tests — at least the district-level EoYs — is Heather Wright.

The crown jewel of an educrat’s career

And I would now like to walk you through Wright’s personal and professional incentives. To say they do not align with your child’s well-being is to err on the side of subtlety. The EoY/EoC system being used in Polk County defines Heather Wright’s career and personal well-being.

When you understand that, as I now do, it becomes very easy to understand why Citizens for Better Educational Leadership (CBEL) received such a gooey and condescending response to our good faith effort to engage on testing issues.

As a wise person once wrote: “It’s very difficult to get a person to understand something if that person’s job depends on not understanding it.”

Heather Wright’s entire career and future depends on not doing anything CBEL or teachers or parents ask her to do. She and the entire accountability office are incompatible with the future we want for our county, to which she, of course has no tie, history, loyalty, or sentiment. Speaking only for myself, this kind of abstracted, self-dealing educratic garbage is the number one characteristic I want purged from the Polk School District.

We’re going to discuss this at our CBEL meeting Thursday night, but I think you can expect that until Wright is gone, CBEL will be in open conflict with school administration. I suspect we’ll make total rework of the accountability office our number 1 priority for School Board elections.

Heather Wright is the IBTP

Here are a few facts — and a few logical inferences — about the woman who leads our School District’s accountability office.

1. Heather Wright is defending her baby. And her baby matters much, much more to her than yours. Wright is by all appearances a — perhaps the — key statewide architect of something called the Item Bank and Test Platform (IBTP). It is a database/bank of 90,000 test questions. Their prime use seems to be for district-mandated End of Year tests (EoY). They may also be used for state mandated End of Course (EoC) tests. But I’m less clear about that. For now, check out this power point presentation she gave on May 28, 2014, which is slathered in the logo of the state Department of Education.

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Here’s a link to the whole thing.

Wright even co-ordinated the collection of non-disclosure agreements for working with the database when she worked for Osceola County’s schools.

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Somehow she got involved in the creation of this statewide database/test bank and made a name for herself in educrat circles. So this is not a case of a well-meaning accountability professional just trying to manage the state’s demands and tools, etc. It’s doubtful that any district will have an accountability leader more fundamentally in lockstep with every stupid thing the state does than Heather Wright. DoE has been her audience all along, wherever she worked. The actual local kids are just tools of her advancement.

Consider this perky little update she gave to DoE about use of the IBTP back in 2015, shortly after making Polk her guinea pig for large district use of IBTP

We administered our mid-year progress monitoring test on the IBTP. We tested 2,000 to 4,000 students per grade level in all state tested courses and K-2 language arts. It went very smoothly, especially for being our first administration and of that scale. We have an older student information system, so at first we had some trouble with CET and rostering. We resolved it and students were able to test. For the Single Sign-on experience for students, it went well for the most part. Some elementary schools were not very excited about students creating their accounts, so teachers or administrators created accounts for them. It was a great enhancement to the system for teachers to be able to pull lists of rosters. Regarding secure testers, some schools had trouble, but it was on their end and we were able to resolve it. We had no problem with network traffic once we implemented bandwidth shaping. During testing time, we made sure we had sufficient bandwidth allocated for those schools.

Anyone who actually remembers that testing, please let me know if she’s telling the truth about it happening “very smoothly.” I’ll go back and look for accounts myself when I get a chance. This goes without saying, but she let no one know — and the report does not mention — her personal investment in portraying how her system functioned to the state.

I know the rest of the School Board is much too lazy to care; but I want to ask Lynn Wilson if he’s ever been made aware of Heather Wright’s personal role in the development and administration of IBTP-related testing?

2. The IBTP questions that Heather Wright owns are perhaps the largest source of complaints and concerns for parents and teachers in Polk County. Many of them are, apparently, stupid.

Here’s one little example from a teacher’s email I received yesterday:

I also wanted to mention that during the last school year, I spent a day at the school board working on the EOY for Creative Writing (which I was teaching at the time). We were informed it needed to be multiple choice. I just remember asking several times how a multiple choice test measures how someone has grown in Creative Writing. They never ended up using our recommendations that year and it’s doubtful they ever will.

Yet, to reiterate #1, the IBTP and its questions are the crown jewel in Heather Wright’s career as an educrat, such as it is. It defines her. For her to admit flaws, for the Polk School District to reject her IBTP policies or pursue meaningful reform on anything related to the EoYs or IBTP is to reject Heather Wright.

So we’re all just gonna have to take this test machinery and like it — because if we don’t, she’s not going to move up to the cushy job she’s always had her eyes on with the state DoE or beyond.

3. Now, where does Wright’s personal interest in the EoC, EoY, and IBTP create an active incentive to punish our kids relative to other districts — rather than just an incentive not to change or take questioning? Honestly, I’m still working on that one. There must be a reason she’s so insistent on aligning the EoYs with EoCs and making both subject to the bizarre 95-85-75 scoring scheme. There must be a reason the School District insists on doing the opposite of St. Johns County and other more successful counties.

My first guess is that it stems from some requirement of the grant she brought with her from Osceola County related to IBTP work. I’m told that grant is worth $4.3 million. The story goes that she came to know Kathryn LeRoy somehow while working on this state IBTP project. And she convinced LeRoy to hire her as accountability director — a job for which she lacked qualifications — because she could bring the grant money with her. And apparently Osceola let her go — with the freaking grant money in tow! Infer from that what you will.

But I bet you can tie alignment of EoY, EoC, and IBTP to how Heather Wright gets paid, one way or another.

I’ve just requested and apparently received a copy of the grant. I know from experience such documents take serious reading. So I’ll follow up with anything in it that I find relevant. I also requested Wright’s travel records. I have heard rumblings that Wright spends a lot of time marketing IBTP to the right people.

Here’s the summary I got back.

These trips are related to the Career/Technical Education grant that was awarded to the district. The IBTP was the software platform used by the CTE teachers to author and review test questions, so I’m including them as IBTP-related.

TDA 15102
Date: January 14, 2015
Location: Lake Buena Vista, FL
Purpose: Central Florida Assessment Collaborative (CFAC) leadership meeting
Updating district stakeholders on progress of the CTE grant and the development of test questions
Cost: $0.00 (Since my home is located in close proximity to Lake Buena Vista, I did not submit for reimbursement for mileage)

TDA 16500
Date: February 11, 2015
Location: Orlando, FL
Purpose: Central Florida Assessment Collaborative (CFAC) leadership meeting
Updating district stakeholders on progress of the CTE grant and the development of test questions
Cost: $0.00 (Since my home is located in close proximity to Orlando, I did not submit for reimbursement for mileage)

TDA 18761
Date: March 26, 2015
Location: Lake Buena Vista, FL
Purpose: Central Florida Assessment Collaborative (CFAC) leadership meeting
Updating district stakeholders on progress of the CTE grant and the development of test questions
Cost: $5.00 (Since my home is located in close proximity to Lake Buena Vista, I did not submit for reimbursement for mileage. The $5.00 expenses were for a parking fee at the meeting location.)

Make of that what you will. I’m struck by Wright’s “Since my home is located in close proximity to Lake Buena Vista…”

Do you think she cares at all — one iota — about the impact of test machinery on a Polk County kid’s college admission or graduation or scholarship? Please. She does not live in “close proximity” to any of them or us.

Of fact and evidence

I read Jacque Bowen’s strange little blurb in The Ledger this morning fending us off.

“We’re employees. It’s not like a citizens’ group where you can vocally express your opinion. Anytime you ask for a written response, it has to be in a form that is factual.”

Indeed, I intend to keep talking about what’s factual. It starts with Heather Wright’s professional and personal dependence on jamming IBTP-enabled tests down our throats and ignoring criticism. Jacque Bowen might do well to acknowledge how personally compromised her colleague is in any discussion of testing. Jacque Bowen — and any other Jackie — might want to consider if it makes sense to hitch anything to Heather Wright’s wagon.

And here’s one more fact. At our meeting Thursday night, I intend to ask CBEL to make it a priority to force our district to immediately adopt St. Johns County’s test reforms.

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This is what’s possible when abusive careerists aren’t running accountability.

We tried to work with you in good faith. You spit on us — and challenged us to come up with evidence. Fine. Game on. It starts with Heather. It’s up to the rest of you how much farther it goes.

20 thoughts on “The Polk punisher: Heather Wright’s personal incentives to ignore us — and you

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • I wish you had time, too. Thanks for wasting some here and saying nothing. People experience Heather Wright’s failures personally. She benefits personally. Everything is personal.

      • Dear Ally,
        Thanks for nothing. You are an idiot. That is all.
        All of POLK.

    • Wow, nervous that they might realize the truth and fire your boss Ally and then take you with her? …Another Lame Loyalist Yelling

    • Dear Ally,
      We look forward to your resignation with the Polk County School Board especially considering your comments.
      The Citizens of P.O.L.K.

  3. Oh and I wonder if it was Heather Wright that invited Osceola staff to come train Polk CTE teachers on how to write IBTP questions for the last minute test writing adventure that was thrust upon CTE instructors during the last two months of the 14-15 school year. Watching them sit in the front of the room doing nothing on our dime while we tried to untangle the web of IBTP requirements to simply write a question was fun.

  4. If you want more information about the roots of the IBTP, you can look at the Florida Race to the Top reports for year 1, year 2 and year 3. Its actually a Pearson product.

  5. You seem to make some interesting points in between all the noise. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the the system needs to be changed. Why are you making this so personal? Saying “she started it” seems unprofessional. You are mixing in biased one-sided facts with personal insults. Why can’t you just reports the fact? Why must you say this person is an outsider and doesn’t care about Pol County. Have you disclosed your informants and allies. What is their agenda. Could it be more than an interest in what’s best for the county? Could it be personal.

    • It’s absolutely personal. People experience school accountability — and the bullying associated with it — personally. People experience abuses of power personally. The enforcers of personal accountability must be personally accountable to teachers, students, and parents. Heather is probably the most powerful person in the district, even though she nominally answers to Jacque and Jackie. I think the evidence shows she has used her power horribly. That’s my personal motivation. My personal motivation is to protect and help people in my community. I have a long record of that, I think, in many settings. Ask about me. I have no particular personal beef with the district, related to myself, outside of general dissatisfaction. If you truly have some interest in this ongoing story, I suggest you start back at the beginning with a post called “The LeRoy Admin. cannot end soon enough.” I’ve put in much more work to understand and try to improve what’s happening here than you have, I suspect. I’m not going to summarize that work for you here. Go read it.

        • Quick question, Donald Trump. Are you the Donald Trump in Orlando associated with the Access Foundation and something called Incharge Foundation, which I’m sure is about bilking people after bankruptcies?

  6. I apologize for myprevious typos and errors made in haste. Do you really have proof this person wants to purposefully hurt the students of our school system? Did she fool the superintendent and the school board? Could she just be blinded by her cult-like belief in her way? She may be wrong, but I hardly believe she wants to do harm. Why aren’t you blaming her bosses and the board more than her? It’s ultimately their decision. This sounds political. I understand disgruntled former employees are involved. Is this true?

    • Would you feel as if a person who is a psychometrician with a degree hold the position instead of someone that started working on it after the fact? Why would the county hire a second one in a recent School Board meeting with an already top heavy Administration? How would you feel if your child took a test and scored low never to discover that some of the answers were wrong on the answer sheet which was controlled by her office? A test in which your child could now fail a class over simply due to the error on the part of others (i.e. incorrect answers). Teachers have the ability to have control but when it is taken away along with do’s and don’ts, it causes problems. Disgruntled employees are probably those who were up in arms over the failure of not being of the do’s and don’ts and then receiving threats from Heather. 85% of students answering a question correctly but it is marked wrong by the scoring key provided by the District screams problems. Some of those students could have very easily failed if it wasn’t for disgruntled employees.

      • Carrie, maybe you are correct. Maybe the system needs to be improved. Maybe the tests are horrible and unfair. I’m just saying these articles and posts are only convincing me there may be a problem when I cut through the incomplete, political, opinionated, biased words. I say just state the facts clearly and completely. Acknowledge the opposing opinions and explain why they are wrong without name calling (I’m not saying you are doing this, but the author is quite unpolished). Where is the superintendent and the board in all of this?

  7. I read your work and it seems kne-sided, political, incomplete, biased, opinionated, and personal. That’s not good reporting in my opinion. Is this an opinion column?

    • It is my site/column. Period. Billy Townsend’s. Don’t read if it offends you. I’m not sure why you would subject yourself to someone’s thoughts if you can’t stand them.

  8. These are my observations regarding your observations. I think it is important to be aware of diverse opinions. That’s why I read your articles. I think your observations are valuable. I have biases also. Perhaps my opinions are wrong.

    • That’s a fair critique. And useful for discussion. I try not to traffic in opinions at all. I try to come to testable conclusions, subject to constant revision. I will also defend them or retract them. Red is a pretty color is an opinion. That wall is red is an observation. Someone painted that wall red is a conclusion that can be subjected to interrogation. You are more than welcome to interrogate me. I work pretty hard at this, and I can defend myself.

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