High-school juniors across Florida rejoiced Tuesday upon learning that Gov. Rick Scott had officially suspended the new 11th-grade test in language arts.
The move, coming only a week before the start of the 2015 legislative session, also won praise from school district leaders.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “It will provide relief to 11th-grade students and their teachers, who are concerned about the extreme consequences of the accountability system.”
Critics, however, said Scott did not go far enough to address problems with the state’s standardized testing program.
Parents and teachers have said schoolchildren are bombarded with annual exams. There are also mounting concerns over the Florida Standards Assessments, a battery of new tests that will debut next week. How students perform will help determine school grades and teacher pay.
“We believe the 11th-graders shouldn’t be subject to that test,” Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said. “But [Scott’s executive order] does very little in the scheme of things.”
The executive order applies exclusively to the 11th-grade language arts test.
The exam had been the subject of criticism, largely because it would not have been a graduation requirement. Some teachers and superintendents feared students would have no incentive to do well — and their scores would have hurt school grades and teacher salaries.
This year would have been the first time high-school juniors in Florida took a state-mandated test in language arts.
Senate K-12 Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said suspending the test made sense for this year. But he was not ready to say the 11th-grade language arts test should be eliminated indefinitely.
“We are seeing both anecdotally and in the research that when kids get out of the 10th grade, they start to regress because there is little accountability,” Legg said. “We have to find ways to make the 11th and 12th grades relevant.”
Legg’s committee is working on a bill that would address concerns about the tests.
He and other state senators are considering limiting the number of hours students can spend taking exams, and reducing the extent to which student test scores factor into teacher salaries.
“We have a tremendous amount of work ahead,” Legg said.
After signing the executive order Tuesday, Scott spent two hours meeting with the state’s top teachers in the Capitol. The educators applauded his decision to suspend the 11th-grade test, but said they were worried about the new exams and performance pay system.
“I’m very comfortable that we’re going to do well,” Scott said. “And I’m very comfortable that we are going to have a system that is accountable, and the best teachers, the best superintendents, and the best principals are going to do well.”
Students across the state had no qualms.
Elizabeth Martinez, a 16-year-old junior at Miami Lakes Educational Center, had recently written an article about the governor’s plans to reduce testing in her school newspaper.
“When I tweeted my article about it, the responses were like, ‘Yay! We don't have to take another test!’” said Martinez, who is also the junior class president.
Martinez said the test felt “redundant.”
“We already have such little time in the classroom with our teachers due to the fact that there are so many tests,” she said.
Miami Beach Senior High junior Matthew Kauffman, 16, said he wasn’t too worried about the test, and actually thought it would be good practice for his upcoming Advanced Placement exams. But Kauffman admitted that his friends would probably feel differently.
“I'm sure a lot of them would rather not take them because they think it’s a waste of time and a hassle," he said.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.