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Widespread Problems Reported As New Tests Debut In Florida Schools

Terry McCombs via Flickr

Students across Florida reportedly had problems Monday logging on to the state's new online-testing platform, raising questions about the testing system as lawmakers consider an overhaul.

Education groups and media reports said students had problems taking the new Florida Standards Assessments in a variety of districts, including populous counties like Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange. Some schools or districts had decided to suspend testing.

State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), who doubles as chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said his organization sent a survey to districts about 9 a.m. Monday. By about 3 p.m., 30 had responded, with more than 20 reporting problems.

"Maybe the other 37 have had a perfect day. I doubt it," Montford said.

Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, said reports of problems were coming from "all over," but the union didn't yet know exactly how widespread they were.

"This is our biggest fear coming true," McCall said. " ... For us, it's a false start for students."

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education said Commissioner Pam Stewart was working on the problem.

"While many students across our state are testing successfully, we have heard from some districts that are experiencing difficulties," spokeswoman Meghan Collins wrote in an e-mail Monday afternoon. "This is a 90-minute test; students have a two-week window, plus a makeup window, to complete the test. Commissioner Stewart is looking into any reported issues to determine the cause and will work to immediately resolve it."

But Montford said that's not good enough. He said students were prepared to take the test Monday, and districts made preparations to administer the exams.

"This is a high-stakes assessment with the future of these students riding on it," said Montford, a former Leon County superintendent.

The snafus came as the Legislature is considering whether to overhaul the state's testing plan, which some parents and educators argue has become too overbearing.

Senate Education PreK-12 Chairman John Legg (R-Lutz) has sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 616, that would cap the amount of time students spend on state and local tests at 5 percent of their schools hours. The bill would also authorize districts to use something other than tests to assess students in some courses and would reduce the share of a teacher's evaluation that would be based on student learning growth.

A House bill will be available this week, House Education Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole (R-Lady Lake) said recently.

Both committees are expected to meet on the issue this week.

Montford has filed legislation, Senate Bill 774, that would suspend most of the state's accountability system for two years. Under Montford's proposal, students could not be held back a grade or barred from graduating based solely on test scores, though those results would be a factor; schools would not be assigned letter grades; and the teacher evaluation system would be modified.

Critics of the tests say the early problems simply back up their arguments.

"Today's fiasco once again demonstrates that Florida testing policy is being driven by politicians and ideologues, not educators," said Bob Schaeffer, a Florida resident and public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an organization critical of high-stakes testing. "Florida schools and the children they serve need a pause in testing insanity and a thorough overhaul of the state's assessment system. Enough is enough."

Copyright 2015 The News Service of Florida

Photo credit: "New Computer Lab" used under CC By NC 2.0 license.