Putting Education Reform To The Test

Florida Educators Face Unknown Destination As They Wait On Test Decision

Uncertainty about Florida's next statewide test leaves some teachers and administrators uncomfortable.

djking / Flickr

Uncertainty about Florida's next statewide test leaves some teachers and administrators uncomfortable.

Florida schools will be giving a new standardized test about a year from now. But which test is still up in the air until Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announces her choice later this month.

A new test is needed because Florida schools will complete the transition to new math and language arts standards in every grade this fall. The standards are based on the Common Core standards fully adopted by Florida and 44 other states.

So does it matter to teachers if they don’t know yet who will create the test and what it will look like?

Not really, said Christina Phillips, a language arts teacher at Tampa’s Monroe Middle School.

“We’re doing everything in our power right now to prepare them for when they actually take that test,” she said. “Of course, we’re kind of, you know, sailing a ship out in the ocean not knowing exactly where we’re going right now because we don’t know exactly what the new test is going to be.”

Her principal, Kenneth Hart, said it was a small setback when federal funding bred political opposition to the multi-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers last year. Teacher and administrators have to get ready for the new standards now, Hart said, so he hopes the test selection won’t mean that preparation is wasted.

“We’re looking forward anxiously toward the selection,” Hart said. “Our hope is that the State Board of Education is going to exercise great judgement and make the right selection with the assessment tool that will complement the efforts the teachers are putting in. We’re putting in huge amounts of time and our goal and our hope is that time is going to be rewarded.”

But Pasco County Assistant Superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson said the late decision is one reason why the state should temporarily suspend using test results to determine school grades and teacher ratings during the transition. Van Name Larson agreed with a state superintendents association plan — which is also supported by the Florida PTA.

Common Core requires teachers to overhaul their classroom techniques, she said. Teachers need time to adjust.

“Right now we don’t even know which test we’re going to use,” she said, “so I do believe we need to move cautiously. The words on the paper may look similar, but the shift in pedagogy — how you teach — and the experiences you provide the students are very different from the past.”

The Hechinger Report asked Miami-area teachers the question last fall, when the controversy first bubbled up. The teachers they spoke with were unsettled state Republicans wanted to nix PARCC.

From the story:

“If the test were settled, people would see more of a sense of urgency,” said Kathy Pham, a veteran Miami English teacher who now works full-time as a “peer reviewer” (essentially a mentor) for Miami-Dade Schools. She supports much of the Common Core in theory, but worries teachers will have to scramble at the last minute to prepare students for a new, and largely unknown, test.

Miami Carol Senior High teacher Nicole Dino:

“asking teachers to teach new standards without any idea how their students will be assessed is like asking ‘me to run the 200-meter in track when you haven’t finished laying down the track and you want me to run with no shoes.'”

And finally, Chris Kirchner, an English teacher at Coral Reef Senior High School:

“I don’t know where I’m going because I have not seen where my kids are supposed to be going,” she says. “Teachers…need three or four years before they are held accountable to the results of a new test. You cannot just whip a horse to go faster.”

And no matter which test Stewart recommends, education veterans said almost certainly at least one of the companies which lost out will appeal the decision. That would put the final decision off even longer.


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