In Miami-Dade, every day is a school testing day

Students take the FCAT, which was replaced in 2014 by the Florida Standards Assessments.
Students take the FCAT, which was replaced in 2014 by the Florida Standards Assessments. El Nuevo Herald

In the new school year, not a single school day will go by in Miami-Dade County without a student somewhere laboring over some type of standardized test.

Despite efforts to reduce testing during the last school year, the number of days spent on tests has actually grown. Schools will experience a full 180 days of assessments, as many days as students will spend in school, according to the 2015-2016 testing calendar.

Last year, all but eight days out of 180 were consumed by high-stakes exams, which are used for everything from deciding whether a third grader is promoted or a high school senior earns his diploma.

“It seems like more time spent on testing and less time spent on teaching,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a national organization based in Florida that opposes what it calls the misuse of standardized tests.

Gisela Feild, the district’s administrative director of assessment, research, and data analysis, stressed that individual students will actually face fewer exams this year thanks to a push to cut testing by the state and the local school board.

So why are so many days still being spent giving tests? It’s a consequence of the state’s move to computerized assessments. In other cases, new tests crept in to replace others that were eliminated by the state.

Florida began shifting to online tests last year when it rolled out the new Florida Standards Assessments. Since schools don’t have enough computers for all students to complete a test at one time, it can take weeks for a school to administer a single exam.

That means classroom time is lost because students can’t use computers to learn new material or their teachers are pulled to proctor a test.

Hector Chavez, a sophomore at Miami Jackson Senior, said he missed a few algebra classes last year to take the FSA.

“It puts stress on the student,” he said.

Miami-Dade officials say the majority of assessments — 16 — are required exclusively by the state. But state officials in an email shifted the blame, saying they don’t require all the tests shown on Miami-Dade’s calendar.

The school district gives students as many as four of its own exams, some of which may be used to evaluate teachers. The federal government requires up to another two.

The 28 others that kids will take this year are mandated under a mix of federal, state and district regulations, or they are required if students want to earn credit for advanced programs or scholarships.

Testing took center stage last year, with teachers, parents and even school officials pushing against the number of tests students have to take, and the dire consequences often attached to those tests.

“I don’t feel like they should put a mark on you or what type of student you are,” said Chavez, the Jackson student.

Technical glitches only added fuel to the complaints. In the first round of testing last year, many students couldn’t log on or were booted off in the middle of answering questions, dragging out the time it took to complete the assessments and raising questions of fairness. A state-ordered review of whether the new test was fair is due to be released Sept. 1.

This year, even more tests will be administered online. Fourth graders will take the English FSA on a computer for the first time.

Though testing will eat up even more of the school year, it could have been worse. Changes in state law allowed Miami-Dade to cut more than 200 final exams and other redundant tests last year.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho “is very adamant about making sure students have the most instructional time available to them,” said Feild, the district director.

Still, this year’s testing calendar is jam-packed. Kindergarteners face as many as six tests. Eighth graders will take upward of 25. Some are required exclusively by the district to monitor student progress and prepare for state tests, and others may be used to evaluate teachers, Feild said.

Miami-Dade tacked on four tests in kindergarten after the state eliminated a test last year amid technical glitches. The district is also adding some end-of-course exams even though the state no longer requires them.

Miami-Dade PTA President Joseph Gebara praised the district for rolling back testing — even if that hasn’t reduced the total number of days spent on testing. He said the remaining exams will help teachers tailor their instruction since scores from last year’s state tests still aren’t available.

“The biggest culprit in terms of testing is the state. You look up and down that testing calendar and it’s state, state, state,” he said.

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