Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida redefines ‘absolutely unacceptable’ with latest testing breakdown

Another breathtaking screw-up. Nervous students came to school Monday ready for their dreaded appointment with the Florida Standards Assessments.

Instead, their computers offered only blank screens and a kick to their collective psyche.

School districts in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Leon, maybe others, canceled FSA tests. Just mark Monday down as a lost day in Florida public education.

Other districts, after keeping the kids waiting for hours, decided to muddle on with the math and language arts tests.

Speaking of language arts, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart demonstrated her mastery of meaningless bureaucratic phrases Monday. She issued a statement that the statewide computer failure was “absolutely unacceptable.” Except that last month’s statewide computer failure that disrupted and postponed the administration of Florida’s high stakes scholastic tests was also deemed unacceptable.

Apparently, the unacceptable has become acceptable.

So we had some kids in some districts taking tests Monday. Children in other districts will be rescheduled. Neither scenario seems likely to elicit the kind of results students might have achieved with tests run by a competent outfit.

This latest stint of ineptitude raises questions about whether Florida can trust test scores calculated by American Institutes for Research, the vendor awarded a $220 million, six-year contract in a rush job, to design and administer the FSA. After Monday’s debacle, Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho tweeted that this latest mess “adds doubt to validity of test results.”

Monday’s disaster will only strengthen the growing parental rebellion against the state’s testing regime. “This is just such a train wreck,” said Rosemarie Jensen, a leader of United Opt Out, a Florida parents group campaigning against testing overload. She told me that some 8,000 parents have joined her group’s Facebook page in the last few months. Some 27 local Opt Out groups are now operating in Florida. She said Monday’s computer crash set off a new wave of parental anger. “We’ve been bombarded with inquires,” she said.

Jensen, a former Florida school teacher with a senior and freshman in high school, noted that Monday’s computer failures didn’t occur in a vacuum. This is testing season, with children cramming for their end-of-course exams and other tests, which will cause the effects of Monday’s postponement to cascade through the month. “This will disrupt the entire schedule,” she said.

Irritated parents along with the teachers and school boards and school superintendents driven to distraction by over-testing and the sputtering rollout of the FSA begin to look like a fearsome political movement.

No wonder Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation last week designed to stave off the anti-testing uprising with a few modest concessions that postpone some of the more draconian consequences facing schools, teachers and students who ring up lousy scores. But angry parents, teachers and superintendents like Carvalho want the governor to issue an executive order suspending repercussions for a year or more. Until Florida can come up with computer programs that don’t crash and test results that we can trust.

Because, what we’ve got now is absolutely unacceptable.