Duval Educators And School Officials Want More Test Prep Time

Apr 17, 2014

This time next year, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test will be a distant memory and Florida students will sit down to an all-new assessment. But local school officials want more time to get ready.

    

As students this year finished up day three of their very last week of FCATs, Duval County teachers, parents and district officials gathered at Julia Landon College Preparatory High School to make a public appeal to legislators for a moratorium.

The press conference was called Wednesday afternoon by Duval Teachers United, the district's local union.

"We choose — like all of you here today — to stand together and to do what is right for our children, not only for Duval County, but in the state of Florida by asking for a three year suspension to get it right," said Terrie Brady, president of the union.

It was the same appeal made by members of the Florida Association District School Superintendents earlier this school year.

The yet-to-be-named new assessment was announced last month by Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. It's aligned with the new Florida Standards, commonly known across the country as Common Core. The test is being developed by Washington-based American Institutes for Research, and questions from that assessment are being field-tested in Utah.

It's the timing of the testing and use of results that is the main contention among many teachers and district officials. Under the state's current timeline, students and teachers would have less than a year to prepare for the assessment, which is still being developed. Those results could be used to ultimately determine school funding, teacher evaluations and a child's ability to advance to the next grade-level among other things.

Wednesday, Brady was joined by school officials, parents, education advocates and members of the NAACP to speak out against it.

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti
Credit Rhema Thompson / WJCT

"I am vehemently against using this test next year the way right now that the legislature is saying we need to use it," said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. "Anyone will tell you that before you use an assessment it needs to be properly field tested."

Vitti and other school officials were critical of the field testing to take place in Utah.

"Utah looks nothing like Florida," he said.

The criticism was echoed by school board chairwoman Becki Couch.

"We're going to field test the test in Utah which is so similar to the state of Florida — that's sarcasm in my voice," she said. "And we're going to then, use that field testing that was done in the fall to develop the test for Florida that's going to be given in the spring that is then going to count."

Vitti, however, differed from many of the others in attendance over the length of time it would take to prepare.

He said he believed a three-year extension was too long. Instead, he said he'd like to see a one-year pause, which would provide enough time to gather and assess baseline data.

"We are losing the little bit of faith that people have in accountability when we make irrational decisions, like the one that we would be making by moving forward and not having a baseline," Vitti said.

Marla Bryant, parent of third, seventh and ninth-graders in the district, recounted the toll the test has taken on her family.

"This test has caused the predicted stress in our family, especially for my third-grader, whose promotion to fourth grade relies on whether she scores appropriately on these tests," she said. "It also causes worry for my seventh-grader, who also knows these tests will be used for or against her next year when she applies for high school programs, like the international baccalaureate program."

Those who spoke at the conference encouraged those in attendance to contact their local legislators during the Easter and Passover holidays about the new test.

For now, the new test and its results are scheduled to go into effect next school year as planned.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson