There will be hearings in the legislature about reforms to Florida’s state-wide testing. The Seminole County school district is leading a movement to replace the FSA at least for high school graduation. Senators Gaetz and Legg have made public statements about the need for reform.
What can we realistically expect?
One of the most telling comments came from Senator Legg when he said Florida was in year two of a three year contract with AIR, the testing company that processes the FSA. A new contract will then come up for bid. What are the alternatives to the current testing program?
A DIFFERENT TEST?
- The Seminole County plan would substitute existing nationally normed tests e.g. AP, IB, PSAT, ACT, and SAT for high school graduation. Many students already take one or more of these tests. Sitting for the FSA in addition serves no real purpose. For most students, however, these are difficult exams, and their scores may be much lower than those students who usually take college admission tests. Parents and schools may not want students to be compared to students attending selective colleges. Senator Gaetz seemed receptive to the idea of replacing the FSA with a nationally normed exam, but he said the state would not embarrass Jeb Bush, the creator of the current testing and accountability system in Florida. He advocates better and fewer tests, but the FSA is the test that much of the public opposes.
- The Seminole County plan would also substitute a nationally normed achievement test for the FSA. Private schools already use one of fifteen approved tests to measure student achievement. This approach would provide a paper and pencil administration which is less expensive and time consuming than computer based tests. One estimate is that it would save about $3 per student.
- The Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards wants state tests to be used only for diagnostic purposes, according to a 2014 resolution. They also requested that accountability uses of scores be suspended until 2017. (Local district benchmarks could and do serve as diagnostic measures, so the FSA would be expensive and redundant.)
The challenge is to devise an accountability plan that would highlight where districts are strong and where they fail to provide equal access to high quality education for our children. It is a critical thinking and problem solving challenge. We have a year before a new system is likely to be adopted. We can try for a different test or testing at fewer grade levels or both. There has to be a better system than this one.