Letters to the Editor

All school exams must be evaluated

Recently, the Florida Department of Education gave itself a break while scoring a political win.

A growing concern over excessive student testing has been gaining momentum throughout the state. Simultaneously, the state had been dealing with a logistical mess caused by its decision to manage a key computer-based reading diagnostic test called the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading, or FAIR. The FAIR, developed by the Florida Center for Reading Research, has been administered to students in Florida since 2009. However, the Florida Department of Education decided to pull the plug on the test for students in grades K-2.

I, too, agree that the testing of students in many cases is redundant and eats away at precious instructional time. Over the past years, policymakers in Tallahassee have required additional student testing for myriad reasons: Evaluation of state and federally funded programs such as Voluntary Pre-K, accountability of schools for school grade calculations and most recently, measuring teacher effectiveness — the value-added model or VAM, which has been rather controversial with educators statewide.

In fact, this year, districts across the state are scrambling to develop tests for every course that isn’t covered in the state assessment program (in Miami-Dade, that is an additional 1,200 exams) just to be able to comply with a statute that calls for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be derived from these assessments. As a result, students in K-2, for the first time ever, will be taking an end-of-year exam in Spanish, music, art and PE in order to determine a teacher’s VAM score as part of his/her annual evaluation.

Amid growing dissatisfaction with excessive testing the FDOE decided to cut the K-2 FAIR, the one test that diagnosed a student’s literacy foundation and informed instruction without tying its results to high-stakes educational decisions such as third grade promotion or high school graduation.

This was a convenient move for the FDOE since the platform it had been using to administer the FAIR had been giving it technical difficulties. And, as an added bonus, it was able to quell the growing tide of discontent among opponents of testing.

The state’s move is both insufficient and reactionary.

The state should have conducted a comprehensive scan of their entire assessment program, reconsidered each test based on its merits, analyzed for duplication and then decided which assessments needed to be cut; for instance, those tests that are not used to inform instruction, rather to generate VAM scores for teachers’ evaluations.

They should have started there instead. Let’s agree to put students and teachers first during these reform efforts.

Marie Izquierdo,

chief academic officer,

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami

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