Florida Test Reform: What Might We Expect from the legislature?

critical-thinking (2)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.
Other groups want to specify a nationally normed test that was developed before 2009 in order to avoid the revised common core standards that most testing companies have adopted.  Returning to drill and grill instruction ignores our economy’s need for a better trained workforce to fill jobs in our global economy.
Computer based tests, however, have some strong advantages.  New technologies can produce innovative question formats, adapt tests for different achievement levels, and provide options that paper and pencil tests cannot.  They are the future—once we get the infrastructure for all schools.  The focus on the FSA tests encouraged the legislature to provide infrastructure funding they may have been reluctant to fund otherwise.  The current problem with computer testing is that we do not have enough computers in schools.
BETTER USES FOR TEST SCORES?
  • 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 Congress is working on the revision of the Elementary and Secondary School Act.  It should come up for a vote this fall.  All indications are that both the Senate and House bills will continue to require annual testing.  There is some chance that states will have more control over how test scores are used to evaluate teachers and schools.  This is a mixed blessing.  The current evaluation methods are seriously flawed and unfair.  The need to push districts, schools, and teachers to provide equitable, high quality education even for all children is real.  For some students, the educational system is unfair.
From my point of view, the problem with testing is neither national standards nor comparisons.  It is not computer vs. paper and pencil tests.  It is not which test to use–though some could be less expensive than using the FSA.  The problem is the amount of testing we do, and the use of test scores to label students, teachers, schools and districts.  The focus on test scores drives everything else in school.  Florida could test every other year, and students would benefit.  Teachers could spend more time directly on learning activities.  Money saved could help buy computers and software.  Schools and teachers could and should still be accountable.

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.

 

Posted in Achievement, Common Core Standards, Florida, Testing.

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