“The final quarter of the year is known as testing season”

The final quarter  won’t actually get under way until the end of March. Still, FEA president Andy Ford’s narrative of facts on the ground he includes  in a column for the Orlando Sentinel is a useful one

We’ve begun the new Florida Standards Assessments, and what we’re seeing isn’t pretty. Districts throughout the state have experienced technical glitches and difficulty in cleanly assessing the test. This first week was one that had a lighter testing load than we’ll see in the weeks to come, so this jittery debut is an ominous sign.

The final quarter of the year is known as “testing season” in Florida’s public schools. That is a sad commentary on our state’s testing obsession. The FSAs in math, writing and English Language Arts and the end-of-course exams began this week and do not end until the week before the school term ends, when students typically take their course, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement exams.

Schools must use every computer they have and every space in the school to administer the required exams within the testing window, even though the assessment calendar begins in March. Special bell schedules that minimize the movement of students who aren’t being tested must be devised to provide students in testing rooms enough time to complete the assessments uninterrupted. Teachers must be pulled from their classrooms and students from their digital learning tools to provide the required testing stations

Teachers are required to administer the tests, while substitutes may be asked to cover multiple classes of nontesting students for multiple class periods. Lesson plans are provided for substitutes who are covering classes, while certified teachers administer the high-security state assessments. A substitute teacher is a poor alternative to the regular classroom teacher in his or her own room with access to teaching supplies and a full complement of students

Additionally, the current assessment schedule for state assessment includes multiple rounds of required progress-monitoring tests for struggling schools as well as students who scored a level 1 on the most recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0. These assessments consume more valuable learning time and computer stations that disrupt even more student instruction. A college-readiness assessment consumes another morning and potentially afternoon of instruction for all 10th-grade students, one of the grades with the largest number of required assessments.

In the minds of most students, the school year is over after these tests are administered. An entire nine week period becomes void of importance as if the games suddenly don’t matter anymore.

Meanwhile, while everyone is making all the right noises about early kinks in FSA testing getting ironed out, the reality is something different. Despite what commissioner Pam Stewart says, the tests have been compromised beyond retrieval. Countless kids cannot see a writing prompt, get started, then shut down and log back in the next day without gaining an advantage over other kids.  The results from this batch of writing tests will have to be  thrown out in the end.

There’s a good reason why they’re called high-stakes tests. They mean far more than the were ever intended and they continue to dominate the culture of our schools.









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Despite Assurances, FSA Failures Erupt in Dade, Duval and Pasco Counties

From the Florida Times Union:

Duval Public Schools called off testing again today, the fourth day that tens of thousands of students across Florida were supposed to be writing essays for the state’s new online annual exams.

This is the second time this week testing has been called off in Duval schools and it is unclear when testing will resume.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said this morning that when Duval added middle-schoolers to the high school students taking the test today, they and other students around the state apparently overloaded the system.

“Unfortunately, as I expected, with the larger districts joining the testing process this morning, along with middle schools, the system imploded,” he said.

“Students across the district saw white, blank screens when trying to log on. Districts throughout the state are reporting the same problem. I have directed all schools to cease testing.”

From CBS Miami:

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Another day of technical glitches as some students gave Florida’s new standardized test another shot Thursday morning.

“Massive, catastrophic fail,” that’s the way Miami-Dade County’s School’s Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is describing the restart of computerized retesting Thursday.

Students in Miami-Dade and other major counties arrived at school to resume new standardized testing Thursday.

“I really don’t have a positive opinion for standardized tests,” said Elizabeth Acosta, a 9th grader at Coral Reef High School.



Students taking the Florida Standards Assessment test in Pasco County have experienced issues logging into the system. Some have completed the tests, but there is a delay when trying to submit the answers.

“Just imagine if it was you and you were sitting there and you’re an eighth grader and you have to write an essay. And all of a sudden it’s not there anymore. And when you log back on, it’s gone for good,” said Linda Cobbe, Pasco County School District.

Teachers say it is causing a lot of anxiety for them and their students. Florida state lawmakers are now considering putting a limit on how much time students spend taking standardized tests.

How come the FLDOE is saying that things are going just fine?

“We believe the log-in issue, which was initially causing districts to experience technical difficulties, has been resolved,” said Meghan Collins, a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman.

“There were reports early this morning of districts experiencing technical difficulties, but we believe that was also cleared up quickly as districts that continued testing have not reported widespread issues since approximately 8:30 a.m. By the end of the day, we should once again have an update as to the number of tests completed statewide today.”

That’s clearly just not the case. Massive failures being registered in some of the state’s largest districts and this tidbit from the Times-Union story may reveal why skeptical superintendents are compelled to get underway:

Dade Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said that after Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced Wednesday, that she “feels with 100 percent certainty that everything is working as it should,” school districts were compelled by state law to resume testing in order to get all students tested within the two-week testing window.

What? You mean all Stewart had to do was say everything is just peachy – even if they’re not – and everybody has to give the tests? And that Stewart just has to continue to say delays “did not affect the ability for individuals to answer, and it did not affect the quality of the assessment.” And that “we are certain that the content of the test is absolutely psychometrically valid and reliable” just makes it so?

Carvalho has probably had enough. Here was his Tweet this morning after he knew the whole thing was falling apart again:

This year’s administration of clearly shows that this is more about gathering data on kids than about kids themselves.










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Stewart Claims All Clear, But Is Her Senate Testimony Credible?

Save Escambia County, it appears that Pam Stewart’s FLDOE had a good day with its new FSA tests. But Stewart was taking a big chance by making this her testimony in the morning to a Senate education committee just as districts across the state were logging in. Some of her testimony could backfire. From Leslie Postal in the Orlando Sentinel:

A software update, Stewart said, lead to a slowdown and meant the system could not keep up when schools started testing. The biggest problem was that many schools could not log on to the state system at all, so their students could not take the writing exam as scheduled. In some cases, students were able to start testing but the system then crashed.

Stewart said some of the crashes were brief, and students could quickly restart the test. In other cases, the testing session could not be jump started. But in all cases, she added, students work was saved and when students resumed testing — even if it was the next day — their previous work was retrieved.

Really? Previous work was retrieved? And the next day? How are those tests not  compromised? Those students had an extra 24 hours to prep after getting a glimpse. When asked about test validity, Stewart responded:

“It did not effect the ability for individuals to answer, and it did not affect the quality of the assessment,” Stewart answered. “We are certain that the content of the test is absolutely psychometrically valid and reliable.”

In her testimony she admits that some students restarted the test the next day on saved work. Not every district put the same kids on the computer after the Monday crash.  She can’t possibly be so definitive about “ability for individuals to answer” and the “quality of the assessment.”

Has there ever been a more highfalutin assurance uttered in a public forum about testing than, “we are certain that the content of the test is absolutely psychometrically valid and reliable?”

There’s a chance that Stewart was just doing narrative control and needed to put the best face forward for a bunch of skeptical senators to get through one 24 hour news cycle. With the big districts returning to testing today, she’s put herself in the crosshairs. But this should never had been about one person. The politically fueled, dollar leveraged monster of high-staked testing creates days like this. Tragically, a dedicated long-time educator like Stewart is on the hot seat because she’s just obeying the marching orders from the powers that be.



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With Scapegoat On Board, FSA Testing Continues to Collapse Across the State


As the school day arrived a faceless corporate scapegoat emerged to take the blame for the previous day’s FSA testing collapse. Gradebook‘s Jeffrey Solochek reports:

AIR Assessment, the organization delivering the tests for Florida, accepts full responsibility for the difficulty,” the organization said. “We updated student data, which was not immediately available to the testing servers. When students logged onto the test, the servers were forced to reach out to other databases to get the necessary student information.”

“This substantially degraded performance,” the AIR added. “This data is now available to the testing servers, so the problem should not recur.”

Solochek noted that it was curious the statement didn’t make its way to the Florida media and cited Education Week as his source. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart gave the all-clear in a memo to superintendent.

The department worked with AIR throughout the day and into the evening yesterday to better understand the issues that affected online testing in Florida on Monday. AIR has determined that a software issue caused log-in issues, including delays and error messages for a number of districts. AIR reports that of the 69,177 tests that were started yesterday, 67,745 were successfully completed.

AIR and its hosting provider, Rackspace, have worked to ensure that service is restored to the servers that support the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). Last night, AIR conducted an additional load test on the hardware that supports FSA and it showed improved performance after the software changes. AIR will continue to monitor server performance throughout the entire FSA testing window.

Districts may begin or resume testing as soon as they desire, and additional guidance will be provided to assessment coordinators shortly.

At the end of the day, Stewart toned down her expectations:

We had approximately 68,000 students complete the test yesterday and more than 85,000 students completed the test today, for a total of over 150,000 (updated since our 5 p.m. call). This represents 23 percent of the students registered to take the computer-based writing component.

The primary cause for the difficulties centers around a software issue on the login server. I assure you we are working with AIR around the clock to resolve reported technical difficulties. AIR has taken full responsibility for the issues and has dedicated all available resources to fixing the problem.

As I indicated in my email this morning, AIR made improvements last night and we saw some progress. Additional changes were made this afternoon, which resulted in a significant increase in performance. However, AIR continues to work to develop enhancements that will further reduce the likelihood of issues moving forward. We will have more information tomorrow after further testing of the system overnight. While we cannot guarantee that some users will not encounter similar issues tomorrow, I also do not want to prevent any districts who have had success from continuing their testing tomorrow

Far too many superintendents of big school districts aren’t buying what Stewart is selling, with Miami-Dade, Leon and Broward still refusing. And the reality of the total number of failures disagrees with Stewart’s rosy numbers

Throughout the day, multiple reports of problems emerged.  In Duval, St. Johns and Clay counties here. Escambia was forced to suspend testing yesterday. Testing was suspended in Volusia and Marion districts. Students lost their essays in Osceola. Lee county schools reported problems that other districts were reporting. Polk schools suspended testing, too.

Damage has already been done as Miami Dade superintendent Alberto Caravahlo told the Miami Herald:

“How is the state going to deal with this massive, massive potential breach of test security, that certainly, at the very least, breaches the equity of testing conditions for students?” he asked. “We have not received that information.”

Governor Rick Scott failed to mention the testing meltdowns in his state-of-the-state speech yesterday.


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Ten Florida Districts Have Suspended FSA Testing For Tuesday

From multiple sources these Florida school districts have suspended FSA testing for the day: Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Volusia, Wakulla, Orange, Leon, Pasco, Hillsborough, Broward. Lee County will not be giving FSA Writing to its 10th graders.


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“This Could Have Been Avoided”

From NW Florida Daily News reporters Katie Tammen:

Santa Rosa County School District didn’t have any major issues but Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said he was beyond frustrated with the situation playing out across the state.

“What aggravates me the most is we’ve predicted this type of calamity for two years,” Wyrosdick said. “I can’t help but feel for my kids.”

During a conference call Monday afternoon, Wyrosdick and other superintendents learned some unlucky students lost their responses when testing sessions abruptly stopped.

Issues aren’t unexpected the first year of a test, he said, but they’re unacceptable when graduations, teacher evaluations and school grades will immediately be impacted by it.

“This could have been avoided had we had an appropriate vision to use this test as a field test,” Wyrosdick said.

The Miami Herald gives the state an “F” in readiness and explains how we got here:

Despite the many red flags in their path, state officials imposed the Florida State Assessment tests on public-school students already staggering under the load of tests they have to take — and the high stakes riding on their scores. The test clearly was not ready for prime time.

Basically, the computer system was overwhelmed. When faculty members administering the tests managed to log in — many could not — they found the system ridiculously sluggish. Ultimately, testing was scrapped for the day.

Notice that the Herald refers to “state officials” as those responsible for yesterday’s massive meltdown. The didn’t single out education commissioner Pam Stewart or even the FLDOE. Stewart will be the one who catches public hell as it happened on her watch and she testified to Senator Don Gaetz committee that the state was ready. But she alone doesn’t carry the burden. Nor does the FLDOE professionals who have done their best to make it work with the tools they were given.

Florida republican legislators share the burden as it has been they who have driven high-stakes testing the last several years blindly defaulting to talking points anytime they were challenged. Just last month republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli bellowed at the annual Bush Foundation pep rally that “we will not retreat from accountability.”

To challenge or question their agenda has always been to be against accountability. Its been a cheap rhetorical trick to end debate and discredit opposition. It’s almost as if they’ve been playing a metaphorical race card anytime they are challenged as to maintain some sort of moral high ground.

Today is the most important day in the history of Florida education policy since Jeb Bush started his cult of personality crusade when he was governor. The FLDOE badly needs to have a good day. Bush may need this to go well more than anyone lest his Florida Model forever become myth.



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“Arrogance, Inability to Listen and Overall Ineptitude”

So tweets Miami-Dade’s chief academic officer according to Miami Herald reporter Christina Veiga:

As many predicted, Florida’s new standardized tests got off to a chaotic start Monday when technical glitches forced school districts across Florida to postpone the critical assessments.

Scores of schools reported trouble logging on to the test platform and slow connections, so the Florida Department of Education allowed them to push back the first round of tests.

Florida’s largest counties were all impacted — including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange and Hillsborough — but the problems spanned the state.

“It has imploded,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Marie Izquierdo, the district’s chief academic officer, had even stronger words.

“The State’s Epic Fail of its new testing platform is evidence of its arrogance, inability to listen and overall ineptitude,” she tweeted

As of this post, five Florida school districts – Miami-Dade, Leon, Volusia, Palm Beach and Broward have postponed FSA tests tomorrow. Izquierdo’s boss Alberto Caravahlo added “0ur concerns, which were sometimes ignored, are proving themselves to be real. The state was not ready.”

So how come?  Why are we here today?

It may turn out that it is the educrat class which has the most to gain and lose. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future has been steadfast in applying pressure to stay the course on testing and the implementation of Common Core. The backing of a powerful presidential candidate helps. Consider these Tweets:

Hart cites data; asks lawmakers to please not retreat from high standards & accountability that’s made FL a model

“We cannot use the transition to higher standards as an excuse to retreat from policies that work.”

The beauty of accountability systems in place in our state is that they do not rely on one test given on one day to impact a child’s future.

With a revolving door between positions at FFEE and the FLDOE at risk, no one had more to gain in ramming this home at any cost. And they, too, are invested in maintaining the Bush Florida model. So was this really about adults after all?



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Three (Now Four) Florida Districts Suspend Testing Tomorrow and Perhaps Beyond

UPDATE: Palm Beach County schools to suspend testing tomorrow.

Miami-Dade, Volusia and Leon school districts are suspending FSA testing until further notice.

Jeffrey Solochek in Gradebook cataloged concerns that many superintendents registered last week. Here is what Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Caravalho said:

“The continual interruptions our schools will face as they comply with Florida’s computer-based testing requirements will significantly detract from the quality of instruction provided to students. Although M-DCPS will abide by the state’s mandate for computer-based testing, I do not believe it will be possible for school districts to deliver high-quality instructional programs amidst the many disruptions created by computer-based testing

Caravalho has been registering his displeasure today on Twitter.

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At Least 12 Florida Districts Forced to Suspend New FSA Test On First Day

The Tampa Bay Times, the Palm Beach Post, First Coast News and the Northwest Florida Daily News are reporting that 8 districts were forced to suspend testing today because students were unable to log on to the state FLDOE website. FairTest says that number is 12:

Problems with the new, computer-administered Florida Standards Assessments are widespread. At least a dozen school districts, including Broward, Hillsborough, Miami- Dade, Orange, Oskaloosa, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia reported total breakdowns or significant testing delays.

According to Bob Schaeffer, a Florida resident who is Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which monitors standardized exams across the country, “Florida computerized tests are clearly not ready for prime time. The reason is that they were rushed into place based on a Tallahasee-mandated schedule not technical competence or educational readiness.”

Schaeffer continued, “Parents, teachers, superintendents and computer experts all warned that such breakdowns were inevitable. Yet, policy-makers ignored the warnings as well as evidence of similar problems last year in Florida and a dozen other states.”

“Today’s fiasco once again demonstrates that Florida testing policy is being driven by politicians and ideologues, not educators,” Schaeffer concluded. ”Florida schools and the children they serve need a pause in testing insanity and a thorough overhaul of the state’s assessment system. Enough is enough”

FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer has lived full-time in southwest Florida for fifteen years. He works closely with assessment reform groups in Lee County and across the state.

There are reports that Leon County has informed FLDOE Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart that they have suspended tests until they can confirm the state can maintain the site.

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“More Students Are Expected to Flunk”

These are the first words in this morning’s article by Christina Veiga in the Miami Herald:

More students are expected to flunk. School districts warn they might not be ready. And parents are threatening to boycott.

Ready or not — and many school boards, parents and teachers have been screaming to lawmakers that they’re not — Florida will roll out its new, much debated standardized tests on Monday.

The Florida Department of Education is forging ahead, even with a host of unknowns hanging in the air. Students, for instance, don’t even know what score they’ll have to make to pass.

“We need to question if we have gone too far, too fast,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho recently told a Florida Senate education committee.

The new tests are called the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA. They replace the also-controversial Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, commonly known as FCAT. The state developed the new tests after adopting new education standards.

Students in grades 4 through 10 will begin taking the writing portion of the test on Monday.

Veiga further points out that  “Florida bought questions that were field-tested in Utah, where student demographics are much different. More than half of the students who took the Utah tests failed, and that state is now debating whether to dump their test.”

But Florida’s powers that be have known for at least two years that the new Common Core tests would have such a negative impact. In 2013, lobbyist and former education commissioner Jim Horne warned those powers - in this case the Florida Council of 100 – to “don’t disappear into the bushes when the bullets start flying.”

The Council of 100 – a close ally of Jeb Bush and closely aligned to the Florida Chamber of Commerce – directed Florida republican legislators to impose Common Core standards and these new tests on Florida public schools. The vouchers schools which both favor over public schools do not have to take them. A better example of hypocrisy is difficult to imagine.





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