Putting Education Reform To The Test

Fewer And Better: How Lawmakers Want To Change State Testing

Students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

Extra Ketchup/flickr

Most students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

When lawmakers return to Tallahassee in March for the annual legislative session, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about public school testing.

Senators laid out their concerns about the state testing system last week at a series of meetings.

They don’t know how many tests the state requires, or how long it takes to complete those exams.

They don’t know how much the state and school districts spend on testing.

And they’re not convinced they can depend on all the results of those exams.

Sen. David Simmons – and his colleagues — wants to change that.

“We’ve got the chance here this spring to do a re-write of this so that we can, in fact, assure that we’re not over-testing our children,” Simmons said.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Florida’s system for judging school performance — like another European capital, at least according to Simmons.

“I believe our testing has sort of been like Paris, ” the Orlando-area Republican said, “built up over a period time and it’s just a jumbled group of roads that our school districts are now trying to navigate.”

Florida was a pioneer in using state test results to give out grades to public schools.

The test scores are also used to hold back third graders and evaluate how well teachers are doing their job.

Republican state Sen. David Simmons.

Florida State Senate

Republican state Sen. David Simmons.

But opposition to these tests has spiked as lawmakers tacked on more uses for the scores.

Across the state, school boards, parents and other critics have offered both symbolic and substantive protests against the sheer number of tests — and how the results are used.

Simmons and other senators say they support “accountability” – keeping track of student, school and teacher performance.

Accountability also means the consequences that come with low state test scores, like teachers and principals losing their jobs, closing schools or letting students choose a new school.

Right now, lawmakers aren’t talking about changing how the test results are used.

But lawmakers are concerned about the spreading patchwork of tests required by state law.

Republican Sen. John Legg is chairman of the Senate education committee.

“I believe that fewer tests are better and if we have fewer, better tests, that may be a good direction to go,” said Legg, R-Trinity.

The state requires students to take annual math, reading and writing exams, known as the Florida Standards Assessment. On the top of that, school districts also have to give end-of-course assessments, which could be a test, a project or another way to measure how much a student has learned.

More tests check whether students are ready for kindergarten or college.

There’re two concerns when it comes to all this testing. The first is how much time each student spends taking tests in a school year.

Lawmakers are clearly feeling pressure about that.

“My DNA is all over the accountability legislation this Legislature has passed. I take a responsibility for a good bit of it,” said Sen. Don Gaetz.

But now the Panhandle Republican —  a former school superintendent — is backtracking.

At last week’s Senate hearing, he and other senators repeatedly asked Florida’s Department of Education for help in how to cut back testing. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart didn’t offer any suggestions.

“Are we headed in the direction of fewer tests and better tests?” Gaetz asked Stewart. “And if so, when will we get there?”

“In order to have fewer tests, it’ll take legislative change,” she said. “I’m happy to implement that.”

The other concern critics have is the amount of time schools are disrupted by testing — because they have to reassign teachers, close computer labs or find other things to do for students not taking tests.

This is known as the testing window. In many districts, schools are administering some test one out of every three school days. Florida superintendents want lawmakers to reduce the burden on districts as well as students.

One way to do that is to reduce the number of tests. Another is to help districts speed up testing.

Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz.

Florida State Senate

Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz.

Hillsborough County schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia said her district needs more computers to give the new, online statewide exam, the Florida Standards Assessments.

“We’re currently spending up to two months completing the task for the 600 students at that middle school,” she said, citing one example from the district, “to do the FSA and to do the required statewide end-of-course exams.”

If the school had a computer for every student, she says they could finish the same testing in nine mornings.

Lawmakers do say they plan to add more money for technology. But it’s unclear just how much.

And next year’s funding won’t arrive by the time schools have to give the new exam for the first time this spring.


  • concerned parent

    1) Get rid of the online assessments (FSA and EOC) and return to “scantrons” There are not enough computers in any given school to assess all the students at once. Until each kid has a computer sitting in front of them online assessments should not be permitted. There is this absurd over reliance on technology for technology sake.

    2) EOC’s shouldn’t extend past the normal class time. If more time is needed the test needs to be broken up over 2 or more days. At present schools are blocking 2hrs for each EOC and just jacking around the schedules to accommodate testing.

    3) Make the districts come clean on the number of assessments they are doing that are not required by the state; common assessments, portfolio testing, FAIR test past the 3rd grade and any number of other assessments. It has been reported by a number of organizations that over 50% of all testing is district not state mandated.

  • Sue Legg

    From Edward Haertel’s speech at E.T.S. https://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICANG14.pdf. Note the 10% that teachers affect test scores and the 90% they do not.

  • GRomeroRoses

    A summit with stakeholders engaging in thought leadership around what are the results-driven outcomes we are seeking from our preK-12 educational system would be a great catalyst to incorporating thought leadership before revising the accountability system. We should know what we are seeking before deciding how to measure whether we’re getting it!

  • Chris Q

    GOOD NEWS! We have a bill in bill drafting to solve this issue. Issue 1: What they are learning- The Commissioner will select several of the best standards from pre 2009 for the local districts to select. These standards for English and math are free and not copyrighted, well vetted and highly rated (higher than our existing standards). Districts will have local control to choose from this list based on their varied needs. Issue 2: Accountability- yes, we need to measure, but there are already nationally normed tests that will do a better job comparing us to the rest of the nation and the world. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or force our kids to be guinea pigs. We propose the districts should have local control to choose from a list of the best of these, such as the Iowa Basics and Stanford Achievement Tests. They would administer ONE test at the end of the year between 3rd and 10th grade. These tests are less expensive and pre-common core versions are available. Teachers will not be teaching to the test if it is a nationally normed test and it is NOT used to determine graduation or promotion, but simply to inform us on our students’ progress. Issue 3: These tests can be administered on paper and taken at the student’s own desk, eliminating the “musical chairs” now needed to address the lack of computers for testing. This has, by some reports, absorbed as much as 40% of class time for learning. By going to paper tests, we can reduce costs by BILLIONS of scarce education dollars, AND increase time for learning. It will also allow schools more control of the data to prevent data mining. Student data can be aggregated with individual identifiers removed to prevent data companies from collecting and using individual data. There is much to do and we invite your help to get this passed. There is something for everyone to love in this bill. It saves money, provides more time for learning, provides high standards and accountability. We CAN do this with your help. We are having a “March for the Children” event in the Capitol March 5. Let your legislators know we want local control and we need solutions, not posturing in Tallahassee. Thank you, Senator Hayes and Rep John Tobia for putting this bill into bill drafting.

    Register at http://www.eventbtite/c/march-for-the-children-tickets-15317379695

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »