We still are not completely convinced that the State Board of Education did Florida’s public-school students any favors by finally locking in passing scores for the controversial assessment tests that had a rocky rollout last year. The flawed implementation could result in flawed grades, unrepresentative of students’ true abilities and unnecessarily damaging a school’s overall grade.
The Florida Standards Assessments scores are set to be released next month, nine months after students statewide took the test. That means that they won’t reflect the work done during this current school year, for good or for ill. And for struggling schools that have finally been making strides academically, the higher standards could deal them an unwarranted setback.
Students faced not mere computer glitches during testing, but complete meltdowns. Students couldn’t log in. If they could, the computers were sluggish. Testing was suspended. Students with no computers in their homes, and used to taking tests of the pencil-and-paper variety, likely were at a disadvantage. And these were the tests that were road-tested in Utah for Florida students.
Last year, the Editorial Board urged state education officials to give public schools a one-year moratorium, given the assessment tests’ less-than-stellar introduction. School superintendents across the state encouraged them to take this approach. But the state barged ahead, high stakes be damned, this week setting new “cut scores” for the assessments.
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The saving grace of their tone-deaf move is that they chose less-onerous standards that likely will result in fewer failing schools. When it releases the school grades for 2014-15 on Feb. 9, the department estimates that 189 schools could receive F grades.
Meanwhile, under the scores adopted on Wednesday, more than half of the students are poised to pass most of the FSAs, given for English language arts in grades 3-10, for math in grades 3-8, and as an end-of-course exam for Algebra 1, geometry and Algebra 2.
For their part, school superintendents across the state are breathing a sigh of relief. They feared that the Board of Education was poised to set the bar for this first-ever test much higher. As Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho sees it: “It’s as close to what we wanted as possible. It put out grades that are aligned with reason.”
Reason too often has been missing from how standardized tests have been administered in Florida. During the FCAT years, standards were raised and raised and raised at head-spinning speed. Floridians should support students being academically proficient, ready for advancement and prepared to excel. But lawmakers and officials kept arbitrarily moving the goalposts — and watched kids scramble.
In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers seem content to keep their hands off the FSAs. But they are likely to mull a proposal to allow students to take other standardized tests in lieu of the FSA. School districts, presumably with community input, would choose their test, such as the ACT, and administer it as early as next year — meaning yet another potential change for students. Indeed, how would the use of different measuring tools yield a clear picture of students’ performance and academic growth statewide? Would this be a panacea — or a Pandora’s box? Given the endless test revamping that schools and their students already have endured, lawmakers should keep a lid on this one.