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Putting It To The Test: Is New FSA Too Much, Too Soon?

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There’s a new test in town and it's replacing Florida's long-established FCAT.

The new Florida Standards Assessment will test students on their knowledge of a set of rigorous new state standards based on the now infamous Common Core. But will students be ready?

In part two of a three part series on the issue, WJCT’s Rhema Thompson explains there are some concerns about how the state is rolling out and grading this new test.

A Brief History of Standardized Testing in Florida

  • 1971-72: The state begins the Florida Statewide Assessment Program designed to assess students’ academic strengths and weaknesses in basic skills; known as the “minimum competency testing program,” it originally measured just a sample of students.
  • 1976: Florida lawmakers pass the 1976 Accountability Act which expands statewide assessment tests to four grade levels: 3, 5, 8, and 11.
  • 1977: The state implements the nation’s first required high school graduation test.
  • 1998-99: The state administers the first Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to students in 3rd-11th grade; the tests are based on education benchmarks defined by the Sunshine State Standards (SSS).
  • 2010-11: Florida begins to implement the FCAT 2.0 in mathematics, reading, science and writing, based on the more rigorous Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSSS).
  • 2011-14: Florida transitions to end-of-course testing in Algebra I, Biology I, Geometry, U.S. History and Civics.
  • 2014: The state introduces the new Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), which will assess a new higher set of state education benchmarks based off the nationally-recognized Common Core standards.

Source: Florida Department of Education

Countdown to the Florida Standards Assessment

  • September 2013:Gov. Rick Scott issues an executive order pulling Florida’s financial support from a multi-state testing consortium known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. Initially, it was widely believed that PARCC would replace the state’s FCAT exams in math and language arts.
  • February 2014: The State Board of Education approves a new set of Common Core-based standards referred to as the “Florida Standards”on which students will be assessed in Spring 2015.
  • March 2014: Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart announces a contract with American Institutes for Research (AIR) to produce Florida’s new statewide exam.
  • Spring 2014: Students in Utah take a statewide exam designed by AIR for the first time; Florida is leasing some of these test questions from the Utah exam to aid in the development and preparation of its upcoming FSA.
  • May 2014: The Florida Department of Education releases a test administration schedule, and a computer-based test transition schedule for 2014-15 school year.
  • June 2014: The Florida Department of Education launches the FSA online portal for parents, teachers, administrators and the public to access information, practice tests, drafts of test item specifications and other subject material.
  • July 2014: Scoring guidelines for evaluating student English Language Arts/Writing responses are released.
  • December 2014: The FSA English Language Arts Writing field-test will be administered at selected schools (when asked, the FDOE did not specify which schools would be field-tested).
  • March 2015: Paper-based FSA writing exams will be administered in 4th grade English Language Arts; computer-based FSA writing exams will be administered to 5th-11th grade English Language Arts students.
  • March-April 2015: Paper-based FSA exams will be administered in 3rd and 4th grade reading and math.
  • April-May 2015: Computer and paper-based FSA exams will be administered in reading and math for grades 5-11.
  • April-July 2015: Paper and computer-based FSA End-of-course exams will be administered in Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra 2.

Source: The Florida Department of Education

The Pushback 

Since the Florida Department of Education first announced rollout plans for the new assessment, groups have expressed opposition. However, lately, the backlash has been spreading across the state from parents and teachers to district chiefs and school board heads. Here are a few that have recently made headlines:

Lee County School Board: In August, the Lee County School Board made history for a brief moment when it became the first to opt out of all state-mandated standardized testing. However, board members rescinded that vote about a week later, fearing the financial and academic repercussions the district and students might face from the state.

Miami-Dade Superintendent: Miami-Dade Schools SuperintendentAlberto Carvalho made headlineswith a lengthy op-ed proposing several changes to the state’s accountability plans, including providing districts with an additional test-free year for teachers and students to prepare for the new, more rigorous standards.

Alachua County Teacher:  In September, Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher at Chiles Elementary School, received widespread buzz when she openly refused to administer the computer-based Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, or FAIR. The statewide exam used primarily for early learners was suspended about a week later in kindergarten through second grade due to several technological issues, according to the state education department.

Duval County School Board: This week, the Duval County School Board votes on a resolution seeking a one-year moratorium on the state’s school grading system as schools transition to the new assessment. The proposal, introduced last month,  recommends using this year’s scores as a baseline by which to compare subsequent years.

Hillsborough County: In late September, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia made a similar appealfor a one-year break before the State Board of Education. In addition to that, Elia, who was speaking on behalf of superintendents across the state, also recommended removing sanctions for poor test results, such as third-grade retention, and reducing the amount test performance counts towards teacher evaluations.

Duval County Public School’s 2014-15 Testing Schedule (Middle, Elementary and High School)

Assessment and Survey Calendars 2014-2015

Source: Duval County Public Schools

Test Yourself

A practice version of the Florida Standards Assessment is available here along with additional information for students, parents, teachers and administrators.

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.