What Does "Exam" Mean in Osceola County High Schools?

71 views
Skip to first unread message

Geo

unread,
Mar 1, 2011, 9:58:48 PM3/1/11
to gg
This is the first of a two part series on education in Osceola County.

Part one of this series is a focus on performance evaluation in our high
schools. The details are based mostly on the personal experiences of my
middle son who is currently enrolled in the International Baccalaureate
program at Gateway High School. My oldest son also reports having had
similar experiences at Harmony High prior to graduating.

I have little doubt that the experiences of my sons at Gateway and Harmony
High in regard to midterm and final exam methodology applies to other high
schools in Osceola County as well. That said, I did not do a study to
confirm this. Others are free to continue their own investigations as they
see fit.

Before getting into the details, here's what this investigation is really
all about. It can be summarized in one word: mediocrity.

Do we really want what's best for our children? Or do we settle for
mediocrity instead?

The President's recent state of the union address touched on the important
issue of education in our country and mediocrity was nowhere to be found:

We're the home to the world's best colleges and
universities, where more students come to study than
any place on Earth. ... It's why our students don't
just memorize equations, but answer questions like
"What do you think of that idea? What would you change
about the world? What do you want to be when you grow
up?"

We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and
industries of our time. We need to out-innovate,
out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology
is crucial to America's success. But if we want to win
the future � if we want innovation to produce jobs in
America and not overseas � then we also have to win the
race to educate our kids.

The quality of our math and science education lags
behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth
in the proportion of young people with a college
degree. And so the question is whether all of us � as
citizens, and as parents � are willing to do what's
necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

If we take these steps � if we raise expectations for
every child, and give them the best possible chance at
an education, from the day they are born until the last
job they take � we will reach the goal that I set two
years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once
again have the highest proportion of college graduates
in the world.

The President of the United States talked about the importance of excellence
in education. Yet ironically his speech came on the heels of a major
cheating scandal that recently came to light at the University of Central
Florida. Here are just a few articles about this local story that became
national news:

Boston Globe
http://tinyurl.com/2d9odbb

Huffington Post
http://tinyurl.com/3abylm9

ABC News (audio ad, watch out)
http://tinyurl.com/3xqbmuh


200 UCF business students admit to cheating

Anyone who has looked at the research on student
cheating knows that the problem is rampant on college
campuses. Surveys find that between two-thirds and
three-quarters of students admit to some cheating in
the previous year.

As was implied by the Huffington Post article, I believe that this cheating
scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. I also believe that cheating at the
college level is the result of a culture of expediency fostered within our
own local public schools.

It seems that high school kids are not expected to learn much from their
course material while in class or at home anymore. So they can't really be
expected to pass without significant intervention on the part of some
teachers with midterm and final exams.

Why did these UCF students cheat? I think they cheated because they couldn't
handle their exams any other way. I suspect that most of these kids were
trained to expect an easy ride on college level exams since that's what they
were used to in high school.

The word "exam" is short for examination. Here is the salient definition
from "American Heritage":

A set of questions or exercises
testing knowledge or skill.

Examinations are an important part of school life. There is no way around
this.

The only way to know what others know is to ask questions. If students can
successfully answer questions, questions they have never been asked before,
this indicates a real understanding of the subject matter.

What would it mean for students to be given the questions for their midterm
or final exams, days or weeks in advance? What would it mean for students to
not only be given the questions but the answers as well? In my view, this
would mean that the students are not capable of passing their midterm or
final exams without such assistance. It would mean that they are not really
prepared for a real examination. It would mean that teachers are doing what
is expedient to increase passing rates rather than engaging their students
to meet the challenges of a rigorous education.

This is what has been going on at Gateway High, Harmony High and most likely
the other high schools in Osceola County for years. This has been going on
with the full knowledge of the Superintendent of Osceola Schools, Michael
Grego and at least one Osceola School Board member, Jay Wheeler. Have these
folks known about this all these years? I don't know. I can only say that
they have known about it for at least one full year.

I first reported this problem to Deputy Superintendent Debra Pace, Dr. Grego
and Jay Wheeler more than a year ago (February 2010). At the time I included
very specific details (see the text of the email exchange "Pace Email
Exchange.txt" and an included attachment below). I made it crystal clear
that my son and all of his classmates were given a math study guide that
matched, word-for-word, what was on the midterm exam for their 2010 Algebra
2 class. The only differences between the exam and the study guide was a
trivial change to the constants.

As you can see from the email exchange with Ms. Pace, I was assured that
this problem would not happen again:

Your concerns are valid, as I indicated in my previous
e-mail, and I have addressed those, as well as other
feedback from students, parents, teachers, and
principals, with the secondary curriculum department.
Robin's experience with future exams and study guides
will be different.

Ms. Pace's assurance was further reinforced by my own words which neither
Ms. Pace nor Dr. Grego refuted:

Very good. I accept your response as the school
district's assurance that exams that are essentially
the same as their corresponding reviews / study guides
will no longer be permitted.

Yet with these assurances it did happen again, and it even got worse.

Two of my son's 2010 final exams (Algebra 2 and Biology 1) included a
majority of questions (80% and 88%, respectively) on the exams that matched
(changed constants only) or were very similar to the corresponding exam
study guide. These details were provided by my son from memory since I was
not permitted by the school district to have a copy of his exams the second
time around.

One of my son's 2010 final exams (AP World History) included questions that
came 100% from the study guide with question text that matched what was in
the study guide exactly. The teacher not only provided the questions for the
final exam, but she also provided the answers as well. All of this was
documented in emails to Debra Pace, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Beverly
Carbaugh, Assistant Superintendent Scott Fritz, Dr. Grego and Jay Wheeler in
June of last year.

Thus the leadership of the Osceola School District had more than a year to
address this problem, yet apparently little or nothing has been done even
today. How do I know this? Because it happened again this year with a
different set of teachers.

Attached is the study guide for my son's 2011 math midterm (IB
Pre-Calculus). Attached also is the study guide for his science midterm
(Physics I Honors). Just like his 2010 math midterm, 100% of the questions
on the 2011 math midterm exam can be found in the study guide. The only
difference is in the constants (exactly what was reported to the school
district regarding last year's math midterm). Likewise, similar to last
year's history final, 100% of the questions from this year's physics midterm
were found verbatim in the study guide with answers provided.

Do you know what is really ironic? When I asked Ms. Pace last year for a
copy of my son's midterm exam, she practically made me swear an oath that I
would not share it with anyone. I didn't. Then several months later when I
asked Dr. Carbaugh for a copy of my son's final exams (the three in
question) for a comparison to the final exam study guides, she refused and
forwarded the request to Ms. Pace who responded this way:

I have talked with Dr. Grego, and we stand firm that it
is not wise to release all our semester exams to the
public. We made an exception for you with Algebra II,
based on our past relationship, but we will not be able
to do with the other exams you have requested.

Not wise? So according to Ms. Pace and Dr. Grego, while it is not wise to
release one copy of three final exams privately to one concerned parent, it
IS wise to release the equivalent of the final exams (with answers) to every
student in the class days or weeks in advance.

What's odd about all of this is that the midterms and finals that my son
took in middle school (for high school credit) included not even a single
question that was previously released to the students, not one. He only
noticed this oddity when he actually started high school last year. So it
seems that as our children rise to level of high school, the level of their
academic challenge declines.

I told Jay Wheeler that at this point I had no choice but to bring this
issue out into the open. I also mentioned that in my opinion this issue has
at least the appearance of being related to the "school grade inflation"
issue I wrote about several months ago (see
http://groups.google.com/group/harmonyfl/msg/26c5f33ed68ab1a1 ).

Jay sent this out in an email blast a few days ago:

School letter grades are not an issue, they are a fact
in FL. For better or worse school letter grades are the
benchmark the state uses, until they come up with
another metric it does matter.

I think that Jay is correct on this point and I also think that skewed
results from midterm and final exams can help to inflate school grades. I
spoke to Dr Grego about this at length. He disagreed with my assessment. I
followed our conversation with emails (see "Grego Email Exchange.txt"
below). Here's the bottom line of that exchange:

From your statement below as well as our phone
conversation today I have gathered the following:

1) Nothing in writing (or nothing that could be found
within the limited time you had to look) was
transmitted from Osceola School District personnel to
school principals or to teachers in Osceola County
about the issue of midterm or final exam questions
being handed out as study guides to students. In other
words, there is no written policy document or a memo
about this activity that was ever disseminated within
the Osceola School District (again, as far as you could
determine since our phone call on January 25th).

2) The volume of midterm and final exams in the Osceola
School District is so great that there is no practical
methodology in place to verify that midterm or final
exams are not the same or nearly the same as the study
guides handed out to students.

If I am in error on any of this, please correct me.

Even though Dr. Grego never corrected me, this is what he wrote previously:

Mrs. Pace directed our secondary curriculum staff to
emphasize the purpose and scope of the semester exam
study guides and that the study guides should not
duplicate the semester exams. Also, on October 8 and
November 12, both Mr. Fritz and Mrs. Pace talked with
high school and middle school principals about the
importance of test security/validity, as we use results
to monitor and drive instruction, so teachers are
advised to use study guides and tests appropriately.

So contrary to Dr. Grego's statement and according to my son's current
teachers, these teachers were given no direction by their school principals
on how or how not to compose midterm or final exam study guides.

Dr. Grego also stated that there is no relationship between student
performance on midterm and final exams and the grades that the students'
schools ultimately receive. I find this very hard to understand since
performance on midterm and final exams has such a major impact on the final
grades of the students themselves. In fact, Dr. Grego's own subsequent
statement seems to contradict what he said previously (see attachment).

I'm sure you would agree courses with mid-term and
final exams certainly will have the potential of
lowering, not inflating, grades.

If midterm and final exams have the potential to lower school grades, how
can it be that they don't also have the potential to inflate them?

It seems that the current leaders of Osceola County Schools either condone
the dissemination of exam questions and answers to their students or they
are too busy to do anything about it. Either way this demonstrates that our
children are not being instilled with a culture of educational excellence.
Instead it demonstrates a culture of expediency. Such a culture does not
serve the best interests of our children or our society as a whole.

In my opinion, Osceola County Schools have definitely improved over the past
few years under Dr. Grego's leadership. But we still have a long way to go
toward the goal of educational excellence in this county. It would be a real
shame if we stopped short of that goal for the sake of expediency and
apparent progress rather than real progress.

In conclusion, I have been decrying a culture of mediocrity for years where
I live. My pleas have mostly fallen on deaf ears. This seems like more of
the same.

It is my view that until many more folks stand up and speak openly against
the mediocrity that we see all around us, we will have little hope for a
prosperous and fulfilling future for ourselves, our children or our
posterity.

Pace Email Exchange.txt
2010 ALG 2 Honors Sem 1 REVIEW (with answers).pdf
IBPC Sem Exam Review 2011.PDF
Physics Study Guide.tif
Grego Email Exchange.txt

Geo

unread,
Mar 5, 2011, 7:31:53 PM3/5/11
to harm...@googlegroups.com
I received a two page letter today (see attachments). It was submitted to
Osceola County School board members on Tuesday, March 1, 2011, the same day
that 'What Does "Exam" Mean in Osceola County High Schools?' was posted.

The letter expands on two important points: grade inflation and helping
students pass who are perhaps not ready to:

Current school grading policy encourages teachers to
pass failing students. Grades are inflated. They do not
reflect true academic achievement and boost the
graduation rate. These figures do not represent real
student improvement. These artificial grades give a
false impression of student gains.

This letter was purportedly composed by Gateway High School teachers and
staff and it was submitted the day before Dr. Grego announced his
resignation.

Yet even with all of this, Osceola county news reporters still seem clueless
as to what has really been going on here.

LetterToBoard Page 1.jpg
LetterToBoard Page 2.jpg

Geo

unread,
Mar 7, 2011, 6:05:05 PM3/7/11
to harm...@googlegroups.com
Here is an article published online yesterday (in print today):

USA Today: "When test scores seem too good to believe"
http://usatoday.com/news/education/2011-03-06-school-testing_N.htm

On test day last April, several fifth-graders
immediately recognized some of the questions on their
math tests. The questions were the same as those on the
study guide Mueller had given out the day before. Some
numbers on the actual tests were identical to those in
the study guide and the questions were in the same
order, the kids told other Seipelt teachers.

This is the same thing that's been going on at high schools in Osceola
County for years. With any hope (and a new administration) we won't see this
in Osceola elementary schools.

Sadly, a similar culture of expediency can already be seen in our middle
schools, although not yet exam related. That is the subject of part two of
this series.

Geo

unread,
Mar 9, 2011, 9:05:48 PM3/9/11
to harm...@googlegroups.com
A link to the attached article ("When Educators Cheat", see below) was
forwarded to me today from a concerned citizen.

Sadly, my son in middle school also informed me that his teacher gave all
the questions and answers verbally to his science class for their most
recent test.

When Educators Cheat _ Scholastic.pdf

Dave Leeman

unread,
Apr 11, 2011, 7:04:56 PM4/11/11
to HarmonyFL
George, you're tilting at windmills. the system is rigged against
you. The selection process you are involved in is not supposed to BE
open and accountable, it is only supposed to give the appearance of
being open and accountable. The public education system in this
country is not actually supposed to educate the children, it is only
supposed to give the appearance of educating them. Read the article
linked to below, from which the selected quotes are taken.
Also, you can google John Taylor Gatto and read his books or articles
on Public Education. Your eyes will be opened.


http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_the_united_states_is_destroying_her_education_system_20110410/

It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill
of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the
capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of
the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and
systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal
system of corporate masters and serfs.

We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to
think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and
replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests.
These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the
point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas
Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated
financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are
self-perpetuating.

They want them to serve the system. These tests (FCAT etc.) produce
men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform
basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the
financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the
rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels,
artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who
march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized
authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge
difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to
think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a
moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the
corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with
criminals—themselves

On Mar 9, 10:05 pm, "Geo" <IIDIMGRLA...@spammotel.com> wrote:
> A link to the attached article ("When Educators Cheat", see below) was
> forwarded to me today from a concerned citizen....
>
> read more »
>
>  When Educators Cheat _ Scholastic.pdf
> 312KViewDownload
>     the future � if we want innovation to produce jobs in
>     America and not overseas � then we also have to win the
>     race to educate our kids.
>
>     The quality of our math and science education lags
>     behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth
>     in the proportion of young people with a college
>     degree. And so the question is whether all of us � as
>     citizens, and as parents � are willing to do what's
>     necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.
>
>     If we take these steps � if we raise expectations for
>     every child, and give them the best possible chance at
>     an education, from the day they are born until the last
>     job they take � we will reach the goal that I set two
>     years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once
>     again have the highest proportion of college graduates
>     in the world.
>
> The President of the United States talked about the importance of excellence
> in education. Yet ironically his speech came on the heels of a major
> cheating scandal that recently came to light at the University of Central
> Florida. Here are just a few articles about this local story that became
> national news:
>
> Boston Globehttp://tinyurl.com/2d9odbb
>
> Huffington Posthttp://tinyurl.com/3abylm9
>
> ABC News (audio ad, watch out)http://tinyurl.com/3xqbmuh
> majority of questions (80% and 88%, respectively) on the exams that matched- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

Geo

unread,
Apr 11, 2011, 8:23:10 PM4/11/11
to HarmonyFL
There is not much I can argue with Dave. There is merit in what you
have presented. Thank you.

While standardized testing seems at best limited in usefulness, I'm
not sure how else to evaluate what students know. What would you
suggest as an alternative, one that would also be widely applicable?

I am doing what I can to make the current process open and
accountable. You can help by submitting some reasonable questions for
our prospective superintendent candidates. Also, if you have opinions
about any of them, please share.


On Apr 11, 7:04 pm, Dave Leeman <RescueGreyho...@onebox.com> wrote:
> George, you're tilting at windmills.  the system is rigged against
> you.  The selection process you are involved in is not supposed to BE
> open and accountable, it is only supposed to give the appearance of
> being open and accountable.  The public education system in this
> country is not actually supposed to educate the children, it is only
> supposed to give the appearance of educating them.  Read the article
> linked to below, from which the selected quotes are taken.
> Also, you can google John Taylor Gatto and read his books or articles
> on Public Education.  Your eyes will be opened.
>
> http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_the_united_states_is_destroyi...
> > Why did these UCF...
>
> read more »

Dave Leeman

unread,
Apr 11, 2011, 10:21:53 PM4/11/11
to HarmonyFL
George, you're missing the point. Any questions I might have would be
totally useless, as the system is designed to get a new supe who knows
the system and is willing to work within it. Remember the quote from
my previous post. "Non conformers are driven out". Any and all
candidates for the supe job are vetted because they all rise through
the giant school beauracracy the same way. By conforming to
acceptable doctrine. No one who is nominated will do anything
different because anyone who will do things differently will not be
nominated. The system is self sustaining. And the overall education
system (sic) is designed to produce conforming, non-thinking adults
who care more about American Idol than American foreign policy. The
only way to get anything to happen is to separate school and state by
abolishing public schools. That would put the responsibility for
educating children where it belongs, with the parents. Do you think
you would put up with this nonsense if you got to choose and pay your
kids teacher(s) yourself? Of course not. But if that happened, then
the kids could learn things other than what the gov't wants them to
know, and so will not happen any time soon. Before public schools,
America had a literacy rate of over 90%. It has been dropping
steadily since the start of gov't sponsored schools, and it gets worse
as each generation has dumber teachers because they are products of
the public schools, and because anyone who can do something to
inspire and educate the students is driven out of the system.

To buttress my argument that the gov't wants total control of kids,
here is a link and some quotes about the principal of a school
forbidding kids to bring lunches to school, and forcing them to eat
cafeteria food. I remember caferia food, and I wouldn't wish that on
anyone. Do you honestly think it's better now?

"At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side,
students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a
medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria."

"Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from
their own unhealthful food choices." (My underline for emphasis)
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/education/ct-met-school-lunch-restrictions-041120110410,0,4567867.story

Three other notes.
1 Why are home schooled students consistently doing better than public
school students?
2 Why are so many teachers stressed out of their minds and having
health problems? (this is a personal observation, without research.)
Out of all the teachers you know, how many are happy and love their
work?
3. Today, a large percentage of college freshmen need remedial classe
in reading and math. What was that percentage in 1900, 1940, or
1960? I guarantee it was lower in any of those years than it is now.
> > > ABC News (audio ad, watch- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -...
>
> read more »

Geo

unread,
Apr 12, 2011, 7:10:20 AM4/12/11
to harm...@googlegroups.com
Dave, I apologize for not having the time to continue this discussion much
further. You have made several points worth debating, but I will focus on
just one.

First, I am the product of our public schools. I am neither non-thinking nor
conforming. By the same token, I know of plenty of folks who attended
private schools (religious schools in particular) who are non-thinking and
conforming. Many individuals eventually make their own choices independent
of whatever "system" they've been through.

You wrote:

No one who is nominated will do anything different
because anyone who will do things differently will not
be nominated. The system is self sustaining.

What system doesn't work like this?

As a computer programmer, I must adhere to various standards and practices.
I currently develop software in a language known as C#. Since I understand
both languages, I can also take a job that requires Java rather than C#. But
I can't then choose to buck the system by rewriting everything in C#. I have
to go along with whatever was in place before I got there. Of course, over
time I can try to persuade the entrenched programming culture at my new job
to try C#, but that takes time, effort and a willingness to first work
within the system that was already in place.

You may have noticed that we have had only a trickle of resumes over the
past few weeks Dave. Soon I will be actively calling folks all over the
country in an effort to find more folks to apply. I challenge you to do the
same thing. If you do, I promise that anyone you contact and who submits a
resume will have their resume posted in this forum along with all of the
others. If anyone submits a resume that does not then get forwarded to me,
let me know right away and I will jump up and down about it. We can then
discuss the merits of anyone who you think can help fix the system that we
have for the benefit of everyone.


-----Original Message-----
From: harm...@googlegroups.com [mailto:harm...@googlegroups.com]On
Behalf Of Dave Leeman
Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 10:22 PM
To: HarmonyFL
Subject: [HarmonyFL:965] Re: What Does "Exam" Mean in Osceola County
High Schools?

> > > � � the future � if we want innovation to produce jobs in
> > > � � America and not overseas � then we also have to win the


> > > � � race to educate our kids.
>
> > > � � The quality of our math and science education lags
> > > � � behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth
> > > � � in the proportion of young people with a college

> > > � � degree. And so the question is whether all of us � as
> > > � � citizens, and as parents � are willing to do what's


> > > � � necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.
>

> > > � � If we take these steps � if we raise expectations for


> > > � � every child, and give them the best possible chance at
> > > � � an education, from the day they are born until the last

> > > � � job they take � we will reach the goal that I set two


> > > � � years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once
> > > � � again have the highest proportion of college graduates
> > > � � in the world.
>
> > > The President of the United States talked about the importance of
excellence
> > > in education. Yet ironically his speech came on the heels of a major
> > > cheating scandal that recently came to light at the University of
Central
> > > Florida. Here are just a few articles about this local story that
became
> > > national news:
>
> > > Boston Globehttp://tinyurl.com/2d9odbb
>
> > > Huffington Posthttp://tinyurl.com/3abylm9
>
> > > ABC News (audio ad, watch- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -...
>

> read more �

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages