Student testing took center stage during a School Board of Manatee County workshop Tuesday when board Chairman Charlie Kennedy’s proposal to limit district-mandated testing was met with a vigorous defense of the district’s policy from a number of school officials.
Ultimately, the board did not make any decisions regarding testing, tabling the discussion for the next workshop.
Before the meeting, Kennedy said he had hoped to gain board support for placing a moratorium on district-level mandated testing. The tests are mainly composed of benchmark level tests, which most students take at the end of the first and second quarter to assess which standards they learned and which ones need review.
Superintendent Diana Greene and several district representatives, including two school principals, provided a primer for the board on the purpose and schedule of the tests.
“Everything we do, we do because it’s what research has said is the most effective thing,” said Ryan Saxe, the district’s executive director of curriculum and professional learning.
Everything we do, we do because it's what research has said is the most effective thing. - Ryan Saxe, the district's executive director of curriculum and professional learning.
Saxe pointed to the decrease in the number of D- and F-rated schools in the district, going from 18 in 2013 to 9 in 2016. He predicted 2017 would see a continued reduction, and he attributed the reduction in part to the district’s continued use of a variety assessments throughout the year before students take the state-mandated FSA test.
But Kennedy attributed the reduction in D and F schools statewide to a change in the way the DOE rated schools.
“I think the DOE purposefully set up the formula (because) they wanted to show that what they were doing helped schools of poverty, and that’s why we saw dramatic reduction across the state that were D and F schools,” Kennedy said.
Saxe compared the benchmark tests students take at the end of the first and second quarter to a chef tasting soup during preparation. He said the FSA test at the end of the year is analogous to when the customer eats the soup.
“These (midyear) assessments provide us with very important data and information about student learning,” Saxe said.
And Greene objected to a board-led initiative to make a change to instruction.
“I am not on a sit-on-the-fifth-floor superintendent,” Greene said, citing her regular visits to district schools. “I do that so that it isn’t the ivory tower just made this decision arbitrarily.”
I am not on a sit-on-the-fifth-floor superintendent. I do that so it isn't that the ivory tower just made this decision arbitrarily. - Superintendent Diana Greene
Greene said she did not wish to follow the lead of Marion County, where the superintendent halted all district-mandated testing, and that there is a misperception about how much testing takes place.
“(If we do this) I want no complaint if our district is ranked 52nd in the state, and that’s where Marion County is ranked,” Greene said. “We are not giving assessments every week. We are simply saying, at the end of each quarter. We now have this buzzword — ‘too much testing.’ There is a law we have to be under 5 percent, and we have met that law.”
Kennedy said he wanted teachers to have the option to continue using benchmark testing, but he said it should be optional.
"(If we do this) I want no complaint if our district is ranked 52nd in the state, and that's where Marion County is ranked. - Superintendent Diana Greene
“My objective in this was to kind of give control back to the teachers and to the principals,” Kennedy said. “If they find that the benchmarks they were doing were beneficial, keep doing it.”
Ultimately, the board decided to further research the issue and revisit the issue at the next workshop.
“I didn’t intend for this workshop to dump all over the district,” Kennedy said. “When we start pushing back, the state will start to listen.”