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.