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Duval County Taking Lead On Call For State Testing Pause

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The Duval County School Board has become the latest in a growing list of school and district officials pushing back against the state’s controversial testing plans this year.

Board members drafted aresolutioncalling on the Florida Department of Education to put the brakes on school grading for a year while schools across the state transition to the new Florida Standards Assessment.

Boards and groups around the state have expressed opposition to the new exam,  but this is the first resolution seeking a school grade pause, said School Board Chairwoman Becki Couch.

The board didn't go as far as Lee County, which voted earlier this month to opt out of the assessment altogether and later rescinded. However, Couch said the resolution, which seeks a yearlong moratorium on school grades, could be more effective.

“What it does is create a movement and a conversation within the community to press and to try to make our elected officials consider different options,” she said.

As it stands now, the state department says it won’t penalize schools for the grades they have after the new test administered this spring. However, the testing outcome will still impact teacher evaluations and the ability of some students to be promoted or even graduate.

“I think for students and for teachers, we could do better,” Couch said.

The resolution seeks instead to use 2014-15 as a benchmark year on which to base future scores.  

It comes on the heels of news that the state department of education will suspend another statewide exam: The Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, or FAIR.

The department was scheduled to issue a new version of the exam this school year, but with the changes to the test came an onslaught of technical problems.

On Monday, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced that the department would suspend the online reading exam for students in kindergarten through second grade.

“Because of this technological glitch and based on the input of superintendents, Commissioner Stewart took action on this matter,”  said department spokesman Joe Follick in a written statement.

Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said even before the new FAIR exam, he experienced a number of glitches with the set of computer-based assessments. It prompted him to move away from using FAIR in most grades, he said.

“One: I didn’t feel that it was very user-friendly for teachers. And two: the technological glitches that had been occurring for years had disrupted instruction and just created one more challenge that teachers had to overcome,” he said.

The district continued to use FAIR in kindergarten in order for the state to determine kindergarten-readiness among voluntary pre-kindergarten students entering grade school, Vitti said.

In an email to Vitti, Stewart said the kindergarten screening process will continue with teacher observations and a paper-based report

“The electronic collection of these reports will follow at a later date when the online data entry page is available,” the email states.

Vitti said the issues with FAIR demonstrate the need for a testing transitional period in the state.

 “As you’re changing the actual system - new standards, new assessments - there’s a lot to do and there aren’t a lot of people to do the work and things like this will happen,” he said.
The Board plans to vote on the testing resolution during its regular board meeting next month.

Duval County School Board Resolution on Transition Year

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.