Fair test scores for Florida students

Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade schools superintendent, speaking to the Miami Herald Editorial Board last week.
Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade schools superintendent, speaking to the Miami Herald Editorial Board last week. Miami Herald

Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is gearing up for the next round of a months-long battle with the state over flawed standardized student tests that will also determine school grades and measure teacher performance.

The controversy centers on the state’s Department of Education’s plan to use scores from the new state tests given this spring — the Florida Standards Assessment, which replaced the dreaded FCAT. But the new testing proved terribly shoddy. Technical glitches erupted across the state: Students couldn’t log in, computers froze, and testing had to be suspended.

“A mess,” said Mr. Carvalho, expecting less than pristine scores.

He’s not alone in that summation. Superintendents across the state argue it’s not fair to grade schools this year because the computerized versions of the tests were corrupted. Even without glitches, the move to new exams means that in this, the first year of the new tests, there is no benchmark to measure gains and growth in learning against the previous year.

The stakes are high: In Florida, test scores help determine student advancement, state-issued school grades, even teacher evaluations and pay.

Despite the state superintendents united an unprecedented revolt — joined by the Florida PTA and a number of other entities —education board members are expected to meet Dec. 4 to discuss their next step in the testing quagmire.

“We’re holding our breath,” Mr. Carvalho and members of his staff recently told the Editorial Board. So should students and teachers.

When the state releases those tainted, old scores, the Miami-Dade school district fears they will not fully reflect advances made by the district, advances that Mr. Carvalho says are reflected in scores from other reliable assessments.

And if your child was tested, you should wholeheartedly support Mr. Carvalho’s effort for a one-year extension or another fair resolution. After all, releasing grades so late means students will be getting results of a test they took nine-months ago as they prepare to take it again.

Mr. Carvalho told the board he’ll continue to push for “fair assessment and accountability” for local students and teachers.

Beyond the state’s flawed result, the district is publicizing the success of Miami-Dade students in other national tests, including the SATs, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and AP scores.

Here’s a sampling of how Miami-Dade students have done: SAT: The 16,000 Miami-Dade graduating seniors who took the test saw their mean scores increase in reading, mathematics and writing. While the mean scores for the nation and Florida declined. NAEP: No district scored significantly higher than Miami-Dade in reading across grade levels. And AP scores showed a huge jump in participation and a 9 percent increase in passing rate.

“Could all these good scores be wrong and the FSA right?” Mr. Carvalho rightfully asks.

State education officials have defended the anticipated FSA scores, saying an independent study of the bungled debut of the exams concluded the scores can still be fairly used to issue the A-through-F grades to schools.

Carvalho disagrees: “I believe proceeding without addressing these issues could have an incredibly powerful impact on the way our accountability system is viewed.”

Miami-Dade students and teachers are lucky to have Mr. Carvalho on their side on this dire issue. The state’s Department of Education should listen to him and all other Florida superintendents: It’s the only way to bring about a fair resolution for students and teachers.