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Educators react to testing changes for students

Florida Standards Assessment will count toward school grades

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order this week, stopping state-mandated testing for 11th graders. Many had said that the test was another unnecessary standardized assessment.

Some local superintendents said the new computer-based assessment, part of the Florida Standards Assessment, was just too much. It wasn't necessary for students to pass for graduation, so many said high school juniors shouldn't be putting their focus on another state test.

"I think it's a good start," said Trey Csar, Jacksonville Public Education Fund president. "It's sort of puts the entire state on notice, saying that everybody needs to be talking about trying to figure out solutions to this issue. It alone is not enough, but it's a start."

Last week, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart recommended to the governor that the controversial test, 11th grade language arts, be taken off the list of assessments given to students. The new FSA test, just like the previous FCAT test, will test students each year from third grade through 10th grade. Critics of the test said that there is a need for less testing for students, not more.

"There's been a lot of discussion about how you have fewer and more informative tests," Csar said. "I think that's really the ground swell that we hear from parents and from folks in the Legislature to figure out how we figure out what assessments are necessary and retain those."

"There's not a silver bullet, yes or no answer to that about what we should have," Clay County Superintendent Charlie Van Zant said. "Here's what I do know, we have too much testing in Florida."

Van Zant said that this is a good first step for the governor to heed the advice of superintendents and educators statewide but said that more control needs to be put in their hands.

"We are not afraid of accountability," Van Zant said. "Florida's schools are stronger than ever. We, as superintendents and leaders of school districts, believe in accountability. But we are the ones that know how to run school districts."

With the 11th grade test now off the table, the focus for school leaders turns to whether or not the FSA results will impact school grades.

"It doesn't make any sense to try to connect an old assessment with a new assessment and try to measure growth between the two of them," Csar said. "It's just morally unjust."

But Stewart said the tests will count toward school grades and teacher evaluations.

"I believe that without a doubt they are ready, so it's important that we measure their progress," Stewart said.

In 2011, 81 percent of the students statewide passed the FCAT writing test. A year later, after changes in how the test was graded, just 27 percent passed the test.

As a result, the state Board of Education held an emergency hearing, changed the grading scale, and kept hundreds of schools from failing.

Now, educators are raising similar alarms over the switch from a paper test to a computer-based assessment.

"Addition, subtraction, multiplication, subtraction signs, you've got to click on these," Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning said. "It's not like you just take a pencil and write the sign and do the math. The whole keyboarding piece is something our students are not familiar with."

The language arts portion of the FSA scheduled to begin next week for grades four through 10 will still go on as scheduled, including the computer-based portion of the test for grades eight through 10.

This spring's test results will be ready in early summer.