Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor


John O'Connor is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. John previously covered politics, the budget and taxes for The (Columbia, S.C) State. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Maryland.

Florida Lawmakers Consider Limiting Four-Year Community College Degrees

A state senator says Florida should restrict the number of four-year degree programs that community colleges offer. The programs are a growing — and less expensive — alternative to degrees from Florida universities. But Sen. Joe Negron says community colleges should focus on two-year degrees and workforce training.

Negron said he was concerned that state colleges, also known as community colleges, were forgetting their core mission: to give out associate degrees and provide work-force training.

“We have a great community-college system,” he said. “My concern is what started as a small part of their portfolio has grown dramatically and, left unchecked, some of these colleges view themselves as competing in the four-year space with universities.”

Negron said he favors giving universities a stronger say during the process if they want to oppose community colleges’ proposed new four-year degrees. He also is considering a cap on the number of students or degrees given.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

Cyber Attack May Have Contributed To Writing Test Problems

A cyber attack may be to blame for students being unable to sign in to a new online state writing test last Thursday. The Florida Department of Education says it reported a denial of service attack to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The cyber attack is unrelated to problems from earlier in the week.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said her department will work with law enforcement “to ensure they identify the bad actors and hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
High-stakes testing continues despite persistent technical problems
Florida repeatedly warned about an untested test for students

That wasn’t the only problem Florida students had. Earlier in the week, thousands of schoolchildren had trouble accessing the testing platform and were booted off the system in the middle of their exams.

The education department on Monday conceded that those technical difficulties were “unrelated to the cyber attack.” Instead, they have been blamed on an update run by provider AIR the day before testing began.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Five Questions About Florida’s Testing Problems

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

stanfordedtech / Flickr

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

Last week, dozens of Florida school districts had to postpone state testing because of problems with the new Florida Standards Assessments.

Students couldn’t log in to the online writing exam — and some who did were booted out and temporarily lost their answers.

The problems seem to have been resolved Thursday. By Friday, more than half of students scheduled to take the online writing exam had finished.

Here’s five questions about what happened and what’s next.

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Is Typing A Test A Big Deal For Students?

This year, some students will have to type their responses on the state writing test.

jypsygen / Flickr

This year, some students will have to type their responses on the state writing test.

This week Florida students are taking the new Florida Standards Assessments writing test for the first time.

The test is online for students in 8th through 10th grade, which has led some to wonder whether it’s fair to ask students to type the exam rather than write by hand?

Lawmakers asked Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that question in November.

“Are we actually testing their writing,” Stewart said, “or are we then testing their computer skills? I would suggest to you the answer to that really is we need to be doing both.”

Typing was a big enough question about the FSA that the Florida Department of Education decided to let students through 7th grade take a paper and pencil version of the writing test.

But should it be? Florida has used online exams for several years. The state is requiring schools deliver half of classroom instruction digitally, starting this fall. And kids can be pretty adept with computers, tablets and other devices.

As we talked to students this week about what they were expecting on the new test, we asked about typing.

Samantha Arroyo is an 8th grader at Allapattah Middle School in Miami. She says the change is a big deal for her.

“One thing that puts a lot of pressure on me is that we have to type it out, and there’s only one hour,” she said of practice exams.

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Girls Still Trailing Boys In Math, Study Finds

Boys are more likely to do better on international math exams than girls, according to a new study. And the gap is even wider among the top-scoring students.

Using results from a 2012 assessment given to about a half-million 15-year-olds around the world, a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds that even though more boys struggled to show basic proficiency in reading, math and science than did girls, boys still ultimately outperformed girls in math. The gap was widest at the top, with high-achieving boys scoring significantly higher than the top girls.

Across OECD countries, boys scored an average of 11 points higher than girls on a test where the average score was 494, and had a 20-point advantage among the top 10% of students of both sexes.

Read more at: www.wsj.com

Why A Shorter FAFSA May Not Be A Better FAFSA

There’s a bi-partisan push to make it easier for students to apply for federal financial aid. But experts say trimming questions could cause colleges to choose other financial aid applications — and those may not be free.

One recent study found that, in school year 2011-2012, some 2 million students who would have qualified for federal Pell Grants simply didn’t fill out the form — or failed to finish it.

Given the FAFSA’s length and politicians’ apparent willingness to shorten it, why is it still more than 100 questions?

Well, a FAFSA that is too simple — or doesn’t ask all the right questions — could cause a chain reaction that would make the process of applying for financial aid even tougher than it already is.

Read more at: www.npr.org

Education Commissioner Says Testing Now “Working As It Should”

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says test-maker American Institutes for Research seems to have corrected the problems which caused some school districts to shut down testing this week. Stewart says districts are on pace to finish testing during the two-week window.

And tests last night showed it could handle 250,000 students testing at the same time, she added. That’s the maximum number that will test simultaneously when the state starts administering the FSA math and reading exams in the next month. Many of those are also computer based, and more students will take those exams online that need to take writing via computer.

Stewart said the state’s testing contractor, American Institutes for Research, or AIR, has taken “full responsibility” for the problems this week. The firm has a three-year, $107-million contract with the state to provide statewide exams, with an option for three more years of renewals.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

School Districts Report Second Day Of Testing Problems

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho at a February press conference. He's suspending testing in Miami-Dade schools.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho at a February press conference. He's suspending testing in Miami-Dade schools.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

For the second day in a row, some Florida school districts decided to suspend required testing because of computer problems.

The Florida Department of Education told school leaders this morning that test provider American Institutes for Research had found and corrected the problems that shut down testing Monday. The agency wrote the testing system was showing “improved” performance.

But problems persisted Tuesday when district attempted to administer the exam. The Tampa Bay Times reports Tampa-area schools had to suspend some testing for a second day.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he won’t resume testing until the state can prove everything is working. Palm Beach school also will not test students on Wednesday.

“Improving the system alone isn’t sufficient for me, for my teachers, or my students,” Carvalho said at a morning press conference. “I respect them too much. Either they have it right, or they don’t. And improvement of something that broke down is not sufficient.”

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What Went Wrong With Florida Testing Yesterday?

Many Florida school districts suspended testing Monday because of problems logging in to the testing system.

sissou / Flickr

Many Florida school districts suspended testing Monday because of problems logging in to the testing system.

Yesterday school districts across the state had to suspend the state writing test. It was the first day Florida schools attempted to use the Florida Standards Assessments.

This morning, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart sent an email to school superintendents explaining what happened. The problem, she says, was with test firm American Institutes for Research.

Here’s Stewart’s email:


The department worked with AIR throughout the day and into the evening yesterday to better understand the issues that affected online testing in Florida on Monday. AIR has determined that a software issue caused log-in issues, including delays and error messages for a number of districts. AIR reports that of the 69,177 tests that were started yesterday, 67,745 were successfully completed.

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Florida Schools Report Testing Problems, Suspend Exams For Some Students

School districts around the state report students had trouble logging in or experienced slow loading time with the Florida's new online writing exam.

Ann Douglas / Flickr

School districts around the state report students had trouble logging in or experienced slow loading time with Florida's new online writing exam.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

School districts across the state said students had trouble logging in to the state’s new writing exam Monday. And the test is running slowly for many who do manage to sign in.

Miami-Dade schools said they’re suspending all online testing for 8th through 10th graders until the state can prove the new system can handle the traffic.

Schools in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties suspended testing for students who couldn’t log on Monday.

It’s unclear why students are having trouble with the new exam. Florida Department of Education officials said they were investigating.

Students had plenty of other days to take the test, said spokesman Meghan Collins.

“This is a 90-minute test;” Collins said in a statement, “students have a two-week window, plus a makeup window, to complete the test. Commissioner Stewart is looking into any reported issues to determine the cause and will work to immediately resolve it.”

At least 35 districts reported problems with the exam, according to The Orlando Sentinel.  Miami-Dade school officials said the problem appeared to be the test vendor, American Institutes for Research, couldn’t handle the number of students attempting to log in to the test.

School superintendents repeatedly said they expected technological problems with the exam. Parents and educators have worried the exam has been rushed into replacing the FCAT.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Monday’s issues are a symptom of bigger problems with the test.

“You have not field tested this exam in Florida,” Carvalho said. “You have not developed a baseline.

“But you’re willing to run with what you have. Seems like you simply want to get it done rather than getting it right.”

Carvalho is one of many superintendents asking that this year’s test results not be used to calculate public school grades or teacher evaluation. They also don’t want the results to determine which third graders are held back for low reading scores.

Here’s what education writers around the state are reporting:

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