October 07, 2015

FHSAA: Harsher penalties needed for high school athletics recruiting

Cook27 MiamiCentralFB SPTS


State law needs to be changed to make it easier for high schools to crack down on the recruiting of student-athletes, the executive director for the Florida High School Athletic Association told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Roger Dearing asked lawmakers to pursue legislation in their 2016 session that would instill harsher penalties for coaches and teachers who recruit athletes and that would make it more reasonable for schools to prove wrongdoing and improper behavior.

Students are supposed to change schools for academic reasons or because they move into a different district; coaches and teachers are not allowed to entice a student to change schools to play for a sport. But athletic recruiting is still a somewhat-common, yet hard-to-prove practice, particularly in highly competitive areas such as South Florida.

Dearing told the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee that he continues to hear stories from parents about coaches or school representatives who have approached student-athletes to convince them to join their programs -- even going so far as using burner phones to contact the teenagers in secret.

"We really need some statutory help with that. Recruiting is our hugest problem," Dearing told senators. The FHSAA is a private, non-profit organization that, under Florida law, serves as the official governing body for interscholastic athletics. It has 800 member schools statewide.

Why is recruiting prohibited? "You can’t have adults manipulating children for their own gain," Dearing told reporters after the hearing.

Dearing told the committee the FHSAA has received 12-15 complaints of alleged recruiting in the past four years. None were investigated last year, but two schools have investigations underway now: one in the Florida Panhandle and another in South Florida. (Dearing declined to say which South Florida school, but did confirm it's not in Miami-Dade.)

State law was changed a few years ago to set a higher bar in order to prove recruiting: “clear and convincing evidence,” which Dearing said is the “same preponderance of evidence in a murder case.”

"It’s next to impossible to prove recruiting," he said. "The level of proof is just a little bit higher than we can actually reach in most cases."

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, asked Dearing to suggest wording for legislation that could replace the existing law.

The FHSAA's oversight of high school athletics has been the subject of legislative discussions for several years. Last year, for instance, a bill that, some said, threatened the very existence of FHSAA cleared the House by an 86-29 vote. It died in the Senate.

Lawmakers are expecting "several bills" to be filed for the 2016 legislative session that could affect high school athletics and the FHSAA's governance authority.

The Senate committee's workshop on Wednesday was being held to prepare members for those future discussions, said Vice-Chairwoman Nancy Detert, R-Venice.

Photo credit: Miami Central running back James Cook gets tackled by Booker T. Washington defensive back Marquis Decius during first half of a high school football game Saturday night Sept. 26, 2015. Gaston De Cardenas / Miami Herald

Local, state education leaders call for Gov. Rick Scott to issue executive order on testing


The chorus of voices calling for a pause to Florida’s school accountability system grew louder on Wednesday, with local and state organizations coming together to ask Gov. Rick Scott to sign an executive order to suspend the use of new standardized tests in education decisions.

Joining forces in the announcement were: The Miami-Dade County PTA, NAACP of Florida, League of United Latin American Citizens, and advocacy groups Fund Education Now and the Florida chapter of Parents Across America.

“We find Florida’s school accountability program flawed and have lost faith in the system.  It is time to stand up for Florida’s students,” Joseph Gebara, president of the Miami-Dade County PTA, said in an emailed statement.


The state PTA, school board association and superintendents association have all called on the Florida to hold off on issuing school-level grades for at least a year.

At issue is the rocky implementation of the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSAs, last spring. The tests replaced the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, or FCAT. The FSAs were hobbled by technical glitches and even a cyber attack.

A study of the new exams concluded they were a fair assessment of what students learned, and that scores can be used in high-level cases like teacher evaluations and school grades.

But education leaders don’t trust the conclusions of the study, which also noted that scores of some students are “suspect” because of the technical problems.

School advocates are now calling for a review of Florida’s entire school accountability system, a demand echoed in the latest statement.

October 06, 2015

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho appointed to national test board


Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho hasn’t been shy about sharing his opinions regarding Florida’s school accountability and standardized testing.

The Florida Department of Education hasn’t been inclined to listen. But now, the chief of Florida’s largest school system will have a national audience.


Carvalho on Tuesday was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The board sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, tests that school-aged children take across the country. Also known as NAEP, the tests are often called “The Nation’s Report Card.”

Carvalho was one of seven new members appointed to the 26-member board. He will serve a 4-year term.

"The collective wisdom, experience and skills of the appointees play a crucial role in ensuring that The Nation's Report Card remains an effective barometer for what our students know and can do in core subjects," Duncan said in a statement.

Carvalho has been among the most vocal school leaders calling for Florida to hold off on issuing school-level letter grades this year, after the rocky implementation of new standardized exams. Education organizations across the state have also asked for a pause in school grades this year, but the Florida Department of Education has indicated it still plans to issue them.

October 02, 2015

More than 500 Miami-Dade teachers apply for controversial bonus


It has been called kooky, unfair and absurd -- but that didn’t stop more than 500 Miami-Dade County teachers from applying for Florida’s Best and Brightest, a controversial new bonus.

Florida Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, managed to slip $44 million into the state’s latest budget to give teachers a raise of up to $10,000. Here’s the controversial part: the money is tied to teachers’ own SAT and ACT scores -- college entrance exams they may have taken decades ago.

The test-makers themselves said they haven’t studied whether the scores correlate with teaching quality.

In July, ACT senior vice president for research Wayne Camara told the Miami Herald: "Certainly we're concerned when parties signal that they want to use ACT scores for reasons that we consider not appropriate."

Fresen did not immediately return a phone call and text message for comment. 


Thursday was the deadline for teachers to submit their scores to school districts. According to a district spokesman, 561 teachers applied for the bonus in Miami-Dade.

Teachers complained about a lack of information to apply for the program and difficulty tracking down old scores -- which could take weeks to receive. Others simply don’t have scores because they went to community or foreign colleges that didn’t require them.

Noreen Morelli is an art teacher at Miami Shores Elementary with 30 years experience and is a National Board Certified teacher -- a certification that has been linked to better teaching but which the state doesn’t provide bonuses for anymore.

“They can’t spit out a couple of bucks for that, but they’re going to make up some nonsense,” she asked. “It’s the stupidest I ever heard in my life.”

Morelli said she didn’t apply for the Best and Brightest, calling it a "slap in the face" for teachers. 

“I graduated high school in 1968. Where in the world am I going to be getting this SAT information? It’s ridiculous,” she said.  

School districts now have to process the applications for the bonuses, and teachers should see their pay boost in April paychecks.

How much money each teacher gets will depend on how many qualify. Fresen has previously said the state estimates 4,400 would meet the criteria and apply. Teachers have to had scored in the 80th percentile on the SAT or ACT and also receive top evaluation ratings. New teachers without evaluations only needed to submit test scores.

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight

October 01, 2015

Education accountability system is 'broken,' Florida school board members say


Echoing a host of critics, the Florida School Board Association today joined a slew of education groups who are calling for an "overhaul" of the state's education accountability system because of the Florida Standards Assessments' botched debut last spring.

In a statement today, the group said it "firmly supports the Florida Standards and valid and reliable state assessments to measure student progress in mastering those standards.

"However, Florida school board members are deeply concerned about the integrity of Florida’s current accountability system, which they believe has continuously deteriorated," the group continued. "Additionally, the FSBA is concerned with the lack of trust from educators, students and the broader public in the fairness of statewide assessments and standards."

The Florida Department of Education has stood by the FSA, citing an independent validity study last month which found that, despite the technical disruptions in the test administration, the test results can still be used in "group-level" situations -- such as determining school grades and aiding in teachers' performance evaluations. The agency is beginning to release results of last spring's FSA this fall; district percentiles were published Wednesday.

Both the PTA and superintendents association recently declared they have “lost confidence” in the exams and have pushed the state not to issue school grades this year. The school board association agrees.

“The accountability system in Florida is broken. In such a high-stakes testing environment, it is imperative that we reassess current procedures so that we can move forward with a reliable system that educators, students and the community can support,” FSBA Executive Director Andrea Messina said in the statement.

September 30, 2015

District results released for new Florida Standards Assessments

@cveiga and @ByKristenMClark

The much-anticipated results for Florida’s new standardized tests are in, and they are likely only to fuel criticism of the Florida Standards Assessments.

After months of waiting — students took the tests last school year — the Florida Department of Education on Wednesday released preliminary scores that provide a glimpse of how students did in comparison with their peers across the state.

The rankings show that more than a quarter of students in Miami-Dade County ranked near the bottom for each of the five tests. In neighboring Broward County, a quarter or more of students landed in the bottom – except for the algebra end of course exams, on which students did slightly better.

The results are not actual scores; they show only how each district’s students fared relative to other districts. It’s still not known how many students passed or failed because the state has yet to finalize cut-off scores.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart released her recommendations this week, giving the legislature 90 days to review it. The State Board of Education is expected to adopt the “cut scores” in January.

More here.

September 29, 2015

Florida PTA: Loss of faith in school accountability 'must be rectified'


The Florida PTA is joining superintendents statewide in blasting the state's education accountability system and urging state education officials to not use test scores from the new Florida Standards Assessments in determining school grades and evaluating teachers' performance.

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents had a blunt message for the state on Friday, saying they had "lost confidence" in the state's education accountability system.

In its own statement today, the Florida PTA said it stands with the superintendents. The group agrees that schools should get an "incomplete" for 2014-15 school grades, rather than have the FSA test results dictate a letter grade.

"The fact that the school districts have lost faith in the decisions of the Department of Education must be rectified. Parents and community stakeholders will not continue to tolerate this mess," the Florida PTA said.

The group also urged the State Board of Education to "respect the process" of determining school's "cut scores," encouraging them to trust the expertise and recommendations from the Department of Education's review panels.

In releasing proposed cut scores on Monday, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart endorsed higher levels than the boards recommended. More here.

September 26, 2015

Sen. Oscar Braynon took a job at for-profit college, may have violated FL Constitution


Sen. Oscar Braynon II introduced himself as just an interested lawmaker — interested enough to drive all the way to Gainesville.

At a February meeting of Florida’s Board of Physical Therapy, held in Gainesville’s Best Western Gateway Grand, Braynon stood up to speak about a controversial issue: colleges offering unaccredited physical therapy assistant programs. The Miami Gardens Democrat was no expert on the topic, as he had to ask board members to explain how college accreditation works.

But Braynon was sure of this much: The Florida Legislature wanted students from unaccredited physical therapy assistant programs to get licensed. It didn’t matter that the physical therapy board was concerned that unaccredited programs might be of poor quality, and pose a threat to public safety.

Braynon told the board that the Legislature’s goal is “to allow access to people” from additional schools to take the license exam.

“It’s to sit for the test,” Braynon said.

What Braynon never told the board: He himself was employed as “senior vice president of government and senior relations” by a for-profit college, the University of Southernmost Florida. And that college was about to unveil its own unaccredited program. Getting the Board of Physical Therapy to go along on licensing was essential to his boss’ bottom line.

Exactly 11 days after Braynon’s trip to Gainesville, USMF sent out a news release that it was “excited to announce the launch of its Associate of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program.” The program is currently available at the Jacksonville campus, and tuition is $40,000, according to the website of USMF, which also operates in Coral Gables.

More here.

September 18, 2015

House, Senate education panels react differently to FSA review


Call it a tale of two education committees.

Both the House and Senate had hearings this week to discuss the results of an outside study to evaluate the new Florida Standards Assessments, and specifically whether the glitch-ridden roll-out last spring affected the accuracy of the test results.

The contrast in the tenor of both hearings was stark, as was the reception of Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart who spoke before both panels. (She had only a couple minutes before the Senate committee, but more than 90 minutes before the House committee.)

The Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee on Thursday afternoon was concerned and skeptical, questioning the mixed results of the independent review and whether the Department of Education had a hand in crafting the final report, because the agency had the chance to review two drafts in a "fact-checking" effort. More here.

Meanwhile, the House Education Committee on Friday morning repeatedly thanked Stewart for her work, saying she isn't thanked enough for the "tough" job she's had. Their questions didn't focus much on the FSA review, but rather the future - such as how collective results of last spring’s Florida Standards Assessments will be used in the coming months to help determine school grades and evaluate teachers across Florida. More here.

Photo credit: The Florida Channel

September 16, 2015

FDLE: No student info compromised in Florida testing cyber-attack



Florida state law enforcement officials say no test instruments, test results or student information were compromised in a cyber-attack that plagued the Florida Standards Assessments when the test debuted in March.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday it had concluded its six-month investigation into the hack, which affected eighth-, ninth- and 10th graders taking the statewide exam. Students trying to access the Florida Standards Assessments either couldn't log in or were met with blank white screens when they did.

FDLE did not identify a suspect or motive in the "denial of service" attack, which the agency said was targeted at Rackspace, a subcontractor of the state's test provider, American Institutes for Research.

"The security procedures utilized by private entities assisted in the mitigation of these attacks," FDLE said.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said Wednesday she was grateful for FDLE's "prompt response" in launching the investigation shortly after students experienced problems.

“I want to reassure our state’s students, parents and educators that, because of the nature of the cyber-attack, no student information was accessed and the content of the assessment was not compromised," Stewart said in a statement. "I am pleased that the additional safeguards were effective, and we will continue working with AIR to ensure they have all of the necessary protections to provide for a smooth testing experience this year.” 

With assistance from federal partners, FDLE found some of the more than 29,000 IP addresses used to targeted Rackspace were based in the United States, but "most were believed to be in foreign countries."

"The flood of these incoming messages or connections blocked legitimate traffic (test takers) from accessing the server and the test or slowed these connections to the point of impacting test delivery," FDLE said in a statement. "In attacks like this, the owners of compromised computers or users on the compromised networks often have no knowledge that their technology has been utilized to facilitate a denial of service."

Photo credit: MiamiHerald.com