Frustrated Miami-Dade students to face fewer tests

Joseph McPhee, a ninth-grade student at Miami Jackson Senior High, expresses a preference for written instead of computer-based standardized tests.
Joseph McPhee, a ninth-grade student at Miami Jackson Senior High, expresses a preference for written instead of computer-based standardized tests. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Finally, some relief for the weary troops on the front lines of Florida’s testing battle.

Students who have been overwhelmed by glitchy exams now won’t face quite as many of them. On Thursday, the Miami-Dade school district decided to eliminate all but 10 of 300 course finals previously required under state law.

The changes come about a week after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill giving districts more leeway over how many tests students have to take.

The announcement came amid mounting frustration in the classroom over testing, particularly after the new Florida Standards Assessments (FSAs) were once again hobbled by computer glitches earlier in the week.

“I don’t understand the point of these tests,” said Antquanyia Williams, a freshman at Miami Jackson Senior High. “I honestly think we should just come to school to learn for our future. None of this FSA, FCAT stuff.”

The FSAs won’t go away under the new law, which was signed April 14. Nor will the statewide end-of-course exams in subjects like algebra and biology.

But many district-developed finals for courses will be eliminated. Miami-Dade will now only give 10 of them and only to a random selection of students as a field test. Broward won’t give any, other than those still required by the state for things like student graduation requirements or school letter grades.

Teachers will still decide whether to give their own cumulative tests.

“Reason must prevail. We must respect the classroom environment,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said when announcing the massive reduction.

Miami-Dade’s move eliminates all final exams for elementary students. Additionally, tests for elective subjects such as physical education and music were scrapped.

“I’m so relieved because our students do not have to be stressed,” said Rosie Andre, a fourth- and fifth-grade bilingual teacher at Oak Grove Elementary school in the North Miami area. “That allows us to be more creative with our students.”

The state had previously required school districts to give final exams in all subjects so that teachers could be evaluated based on the scores. That would have meant coming up with more than an additional 1,000 final exams for courses in both Miami-Dade and Broward.

Now, teachers who teach subjects not covered by finals will instead be evaluated based, in part, on reading scores, said United Teachers of Dade President Fedrick Ingram.

Less testing was welcome news for students at Miami Jackson Senior High who struggled to take the new FSA on Monday amid computer glitches. The Miami Herald spoke with 10 freshmen who shared their experiences. One word could sum up how they felt: frustrated.

“You’re all ready, and then you come to find out there’s an error. That’s messed up,” said Tyana Wright. “The state should have made sure this didn’t happen to us.”

Hector Chavez said his computer screen went dark multiple times in the middle of the exam. Though he was given extra time to make up for the minutes lost to technical glitches, Chavez felt flustered.

“I had to skim through the passages,” he said.

Shirley Manzanares said that her entire class of about 28 students got error messages while trying to log in. After trying to access the tests for an hour and a half, they were all sent back to class and had to try to take the test again the next day.

It all added up to lost time in important classes during the crucial wind-down of the semester.

“I haven’t been to my freshman experience all week. I have a C. I had an A,” said Wilson Hulse.

Some students said they would rather take an old-fashioned pen-and-paper test. Some said they can write faster than they type, or that they take better notes by hand. Others just wanted to avoid technical bugs.

“On paper, you won’t have the errors. On computers, you have viruses,” said Kayla Cabrera.

Some students also took issue with the content itself, saying the passages they had to read were too long and that they couldn’t relate to the content. Addaly Borrero was baffled by a piece on Shakespeare.

“I never really learned anything about it, so I was just lost,” she said.

The students said they would feel better if their teachers had more leeway to teach students based on what the teacher thinks is important and the students find interesting.

“Why does everything have to be based on the test? In my English class, my teacher was telling me that black people were kings and queens. But we couldn’t learn about it because it wasn’t on the test,” said Joseph McPhee. “I feel like school shouldn’t be like that. It’s test, test, test, test, test.”

Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.