South Florida schools to try high-stakes testing again

FILE ART: Language arts students from Carver Middle School in Coconut Grove prepare to take a state-mandated test.
FILE ART: Language arts students from Carver Middle School in Coconut Grove prepare to take a state-mandated test. MIAMI HERALD

South Florida school districts will resume high-stakes testing on Thursday after three days of delays due to technical problems.

Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties all decided to administer the computer-based Florida Standards Assessment after reassurances from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that glitches have been resolved.

“There is a window by which we need to test. Despite ongoing concerns across the state about login issues, time-out issues, and potential loss of data, we are legally compelled, on the basis of the Commissioner’s assurance of the system being at 100 percent, to move forward with assessments,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a statement.

Some of the state’s largest school districts had suspended the exam after students were unable to log on and the system ran impossibly slow. Glitches have persisted even as Stewart has assured software changes had resulted in “improved” performance.

Problems continued on Wednesday, with St. Lucie County aborting testing.

“The magnitude of today’s events do not allow us to provide the students of Saint Lucie County an acceptable testing experience,” Superintendent Genelle Zoratti Yost wrote in a letter to Stewart. “At this point, we have serious concerns, not only about the functionality of computer based testing, but the validity of results determined from this round of assessments.”

In Miami-Dade, testing will begin again in grades eight and nine. Tenth-graders will also have to take the exam, but the district said it will phase those students into the testing schedule later.

The technical woes have given ammunition to school district officials, teachers union leaders, parents and lawmakers who have been complaining the state is moving forward too quickly with the new tests.

“Implementing large-scale, systematic change takes long lead time to build-in the technology and to pretest it,” said said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the anti-testing group FairTest. “Florida’s schedule was very rushed and the so called stress test was laughable. Too few students.”

The FSA was developed to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, commonly known as FCAT, and is based on new, harder education standards.

It hasn’t been field-tested, and students don’t yet know what score they’ll need to pass. Still, the state has decided to use FSAs to decide whether students get promoted or graduate. Results will also be factored into teacher evaluations, which can result in a bigger paycheck or the ax.

Schools were scheduled to give the writing portion of the test for the first time on Monday. Students in grades four through seven take the test on paper.

Carvalho also is concerned that the test validity and fairness has been compromised since some students were able to see questions before glitches forced cancellation of their tests.

Miami Herald news partner WLRN reporter John O’Connor contributed to this report.

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