Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

Florida Schools Chief Picks AIR For Next Statewide Test

Florida schools chief Pam Stewart is recommending the American Institutes for Research to produce Florida's next statewide test.

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Florida schools chief Pam Stewart is recommending the American Institutes for Research to produce Florida's next statewide test.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has recommended the American Institutes for Research produce Florida’s next statewide exam.

The new, as-yet-unnamed test is required because Florida is finishing the switch to new math, language arts and literacy standards largely based on the Common Core State Standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. The current Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test was not designed for the new standards.

“The new assessment will include more than just multiple choice or simple fill-in-the-blank questions,” Stewart wrote in a letter to parents. “Students will be asked to create graphs, interact with test content and write and respond in different ways than on traditional tests.”

AIR will field test exam questions in Utah this year and the test will include the more complicated questions known as performance tasks. Those are interactive, puzzle-like tasks students must do to answer the question.

Students will be able to take a version of the test online or with a pencil and paper next year. Gradually, the state will move towards all online exams.

The contract with AIR will be for $220 million over six years, according to documents the agency posted online. The suite of tests will cost $34.23 per student, per year. The FCAT currently costs $36.17 per student, per year.

AIR’s math and English language arts exams will cost $19.28. The balance of the cost is science and other end-of-course exams.

AIR was one of five firms competing for the exam. The D.C.-based non-profit beat out bids from ACT, CTB/McGraw-Hill, McCann Associates and Pearson. Pearson currently holds the FCAT contract.

Michael Brickman, national policy director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said the choice of AIR is something of a surprise because  the ACT Aspire seemed the front-runner until very recently.

Florida was a leading member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of two multi-state groups developing exams with a federal grant. Smarter Balanced is the other group.

PARCC has been publishing sample questions for months and appears to be a good test, Brickman said.

But the exams use of federal money worried conservative activists, and legislative leaders said PARCC would cost too much and require too much testing time.

“It remains to be seen what the other organizations end up providing,” Brickman said, noting AIR’s research has a “solid reputation.”

“We’ll have to wait and see what their finished product looks like,” he said.

Brickman said it will be interesting to see if other states follow Florida’s lead and choose AIR exams.

Another big question is whether Florida will be able to use the AIR exam results to compare student performance with other states — one of the selling points of Common Core. Stewart said comparing results with other states would be a “bonus,” but choosing a test which measured Florida’s standards was the first priority.

New American foundation policy analyst Anne Hyslop said comparing state results will still be possible with the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

But Florida educators will need to make sure they carefully vet any sample items for the new test, Hyslop said. While cost and testing time were important, politics were also a factor in the decision.

“They clearly want to make the case that AIR is an independent entity outside of PARCC and Smarter Balanced,” she said. Hyslop said that Florida teachers, students and parents had several years to prepare for PARCC. Now, they’ll have less than a year for AIR’s exam.

“It may make it more difficult for students and teachers to know what’s coming next year,” she said.

Comments

  • Florida Mom

    Will this still be a high stakes test? Meaning, the child has one chance to take it?

    • StateImpactJOC

      Right now, it’s unlikely how the test is taken and how the results are used will change. The 2015 results will be used to set a baseline for future years.

      • Florida mom

        Thank you, it is then just another FCAT – how disappointing.

  • HeatherH

    Any news on when AIR might be providing teachers access to sample items?

    • StateImpactJOC

      Don’t know yet.

      The first year of the test, Florida will lease test items from Utah’s SAGE exam. You can find some more information on that here: http://sageportal.org/resources/?section=5.

      We haven’t seen a final contract yet, but the bid documents call for AIR to design Florida-specific items by the 2016 test administration. So there could be some change in test items from the Utah-designed items to the Florida-designed items.

      • HeatherH

        Thanks very much, Mr. O’Connor. I had not received this type of information from any of my other sources. I’m a bit surprised though to hear that the plan for FL’s state-mandated testing is to have one type of test in spring 2015 and another type of test in 2016. Not good news for us in education, nor for the students, to feel like the “uncertainty” about what will our high-stakes look like will be drawn out through spring 2016. Do you know when the final contract will be presented/finalized? Thanks again.

        • StateImpactJOC

          The Department of Education said yesterday that the final contract is close, but we don’t know exactly when we’ll see it.

          • HeatherH

            Thank you.

    • StateImpactJOC

      The Florida Department of Education has released a timeline for the new assessment, which might have some answers for you. Looks like some draft items will be released in June: http://info.fldoe.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-7030/dps-2014-69.pdf

      • HeatherH

        Thank you. I did see that last week when it went out on a list-serve. Keep me posted, though, if you hear anything else. I appreciate it, and will share with the other charter school principals/assistant principals I know in our area.

  • CarolS

    “While cost and testing time were important, politics were also a factor in the decision.”…ya think? I do find it funny they are field testing it in Utah and are going to use test items from a Utah test…then alter those items to fit FL? as for time…as a librarian, I have been (and continue until May 23rd) to have the library closed to be a testing center since the end of April…you should see our testing schedule! I’m not sure if these tests are the answer.
    FL High School Librarian

  • JohnC

    This from Steve Leinwand, Principal Researcher, Education Program, AIR:
    “”The fact that, for the first time, the
    U.S. has what is essentially a national
    curriculum, equivalent in quality to
    what is found in the highest scoring
    countries in the world, means that
    the focus of leadership can finally
    shift from arguing about what math
    to teach, to how best to teach the
    agreed upon content to all students.”

    Apparently, Common Core IS a curriculum, not just a set of standards.

  • Ewade

    If you don’t rescue your offspring from these evil people, they are doomed. And I mean that in the worst possible way. They will fail at life, and forever be enslaved (supported) like the 50% welfare feeders that live in the US today. Make no mistake, this is the goal.

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