An ‘F’ in readiness


When the very first round on the very first day of computer-based assessment testing went down in flames at public schools on Monday, Florida’s Department of Education said it was because of “computer technical difficulties.”

However, “karma” — and bad karma at that — is a better description for what went wrong.

Despite the many red flags in their path, state officials imposed the Florida State Assessment tests on public-school students already staggering under the load of tests they have to take — and the high stakes riding on their scores. The test clearly was not ready for prime time.

Basically, the computer system was overwhelmed. When faculty members administering the tests managed to log in — many could not — they found the system ridiculously sluggish. Ultimately, testing was scrapped for the day.

As of late Monday afternoon, Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho told the Editorial Board, state education officials could not say with any certainty that testing would resume on Tuesday. Mr. Carvalho’s exasperated reaction? “I will not be assessing [on Tuesday]. I will not, until the state proves to me that it is ready to ensure a smooth implementation of this FSA.”

Monday’s meltdown was just the most obvious manifestation of the problems with the FSA. In fact, the FSA, which has replaced the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — FCAT — has been a dubious endeavor from the outset. This is an exam, after all, that was field-tested in homogeneous Utah to determine its suitability for Florida’s students. This is the test that, according to Mr. Carvalho, was created by a contractor with limited experience in developing public-school assessment tests. This is the test for which students still didn’t know as of Monday — test day — what scores were needed to pass.

The FSA, more difficult than the FCAT and administered via computer, is definitely “new;” whether it is “improved” remains to be seen. That’s a major problem that education officials must confront now, rather than later, if the test scores are to have any credibility at all.

The state continues to insist that school and teacher evaluations be based on the scores of students who are facing an unfamiliar and harder test, one taken on computer, not with the usual pencil and paper. The test stands to deepen the division between students who are computer-proficient and those whose only exposure is at school and who return to unconnected homes.

“Not only is the test assessing how well kids read and write, but also how they navigate technology,” Mr. Carvalho said. “This may drive educational outcomes.” And teachers would not be the only ones penalized. Students who do poorly stand to be held back. There is so much still riding on the FSA that to go forward despite the flaws is unconscionably unfair.

It’s time to hit the pause button, and follow Gov. Rick Scott’s lead. Last week, he suspended the 11th-grade assessment test. If education officials are going to follow through and administer the FSA, then they should suspend any penalties and unlink students’ scores from teacher evaluations. Give it a year to allow for a more-sane transition.

Already the test is compromised. Students’ scores, and schools’, likely will go down. The state, in essence, is setting up too many kids to fail and, worse, to think that they are failures. That is not how education happens. State leaders should have realized it ages ago.