State Says Districts Accused Of Inflating Test Numbers, Including Duval, Did Nothing Wrong

Jul 6, 2018

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has determined several Florida school districts — Duval, Manatee and Polk counties — that were accused of inflating end-of-course civics test numbers by several lawmakers did nothing wrong.

In fact, she said the moves these districts made allowing seventh grade students to delay taking the class a year can be considered educationally sound.  

“I am grateful for the Commissioner’s letter and her support,” said Duval Superintendent Diana Greene in an emailed statement. “I am also excited to put this issue behind us so we can return our full focus to even greater achievement strategies for the future.”

In Late June, a conservative group called the Florida Coalition of School Board Members said in an email to news outlets it wanted the state to investigate high test score spikes. Duval School Board member Scott Shine is part of the group.

For example, Duval County students scored much higher on this year's civics end-of-course exam, with 84 percent of students taking the exam passing — an 18 point improvement from the year before. The state average is 71 percent.

At the same time, nearly 3,000 fewer Duval students took the civics test this past school year compared to the year before. Civics, which is part of social studies, is factored into school grades.

Although the Coalition of School Board Members never contacted the state, a group of six Republican lawmakers, including Duval State Representative Jason Fischer, did. Their letter to Stewart called for her to exam the three districts’ testing practices.

Since being accused, the Duval County School District has maintained it did nothing wrong testing fewer students in civics this past school year. Stewart backed that up this week.

Duval’s Chief Academic Officer Mason Davis said each year the district reviews the student progression plan and master scheduling guidelines. From those reviews come recommendations, like this year’s — allowing students to take civics a year later, in eighth grade, and recommending they take law studies  in seventh grade to better prepare them.

He pointed out the district has done this in previous years. In the 2016-17 school year geometry scores increased by 32 percentage points with many students delaying the course a year. But this past year, the number of test-takers was back to normal.

“Moving forward, there will be an increase in the number of students assessed each year,” Davis said.

In Stewart’s letter to the lawmakers, she said many districts over the last five years have had dramatic drops in test taking for the same reasons.

“For example, between 2014-15 and 2015-16 the number of civics EOC test takers in Osceola County decreased from 4,654 students to 1,311 students,” she said. “The percentage of students scoring a Level 3 or higher during that period, increased from 61.5 [percent] to 70.3 [percent].”

However, the following year the number of test takers returned to historical levels. She said delaying the year the civics course is taken can result in more students passing the exam when they take it the following year. 

“At this time, we do not have any evidence that the districts you have listed have done anything that is in violation of the law or improperly manipulated the accountability system,” Stewart wrote in her letter to lawmakers.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.