JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The first of several rounds of statewide testing of Florida students began Monday, amid the lingering safety concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Florida Department of Education is requiring all of the assessments to be administered in-person, to the concern of some parents and teachers, but also issued an emergency order which expanded the testing window by two weeks and allowed local districts to have some flexibility to make accommodations.
The debate over how the annual assessments are handled has been the topic of debate since schools reopened for the fall 2020 semester, with some calling for full cancellation of the FSAs due to pandemic concerns.
Others argued that the state should administer the exams, but only use their results as a measurement of student progress, and hold teachers, schools and district’s blameless for a projected dip in scores.
In a March press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he’s confident that testing students is safe.
“The fact of the matter is, we’ve done millions of millions of tests all through the fall already,” Corcoran said. “We’ve proven it’s safe for those children to take that test, but for some reason, if there is a parent whose out there, again, we will be graceful and we will be compassionate, but we want them to understand that it is safe and -- to get that evaluation of their child and where they need to go after a year in the pandemic is overwhelmingly more important.”
Rolline Sullivan is the parent of four Duval County students enrolled in the district’s virtual platform, Duval Homeroom. Sullivan was initially reluctant to allow her students to return to their campuses for the FSAs, but said that the increased safety measures by the district and state eased her concerns.
“I went ahead and just registered my kids to take the FSA testing in school, I know it’s in person,” Sullivan said. ”Even though I’ve been a very strong advocate to keep my kids home, I also thought the testing was important, as well as the safety guidelines that they’re going to be following and the protocols.”
But according to a Sandalwood High School teacher, who declined to be identified, more than a quarter of her students who were slated to take the exams Monday were absent.
“I feel many of the students are not taking this seriously; they have too much on their plate with the new seven ‘period a day’ schedule and the pandemic that’s been looming over their heads for over a year,” the educator said. “Scores should not count against students and teachers this year given what teachers and students have had to endure since August.”
The teacher said the pandemic, and all the logistical issues it brought, prevented students from being adequately prepared for the tests.
“Between quarantines, students switching from Duval Homeroom to face-to-face Instruction and even several teachers having to be out due to quarantine and extended illness directly related to COVID-19, many students have not been able to receive the essential instruction needed to prepare them for these state assessments, regardless of the efforts and intentions from both teachers and students,” the Sandalwood teacher said.
In his March 22 statements, Corcoran said he hasn’t ruled out nullifying the FSAs’ impact on teacher and school accountability.
“We gotta go out there and get the measurement,” Corcoran said, referring to the exams. “When we get the measurement, then we can sit back, look at the data and make the decisions that are best for children.”
One in five students in Duval County Public Schools is learning primarily through Duval Homeroom.