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Palm Coast Tuesday, Sep. 14, 2021 4 days ago

DeSantis wants to end 'outdated' year-end school tests in favor of simpler evaluations focused on progress

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The new goal, he said, is 'short, individualized check-in assessments three times per year.'
by: Ryan Dailey The News Service of Florida

Saying the state’s system of standardized testing in public schools is “quite frankly, outdated,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced that lawmakers will consider a proposal during the 2022 legislative session to end the Florida Standards Assessments.

The statewide exams in English-language arts and math, known as the FSA, are given annually to students in third through 10th grades. DeSantis said he wants to eliminate the exams and move to a different way of evaluating students.

“We are going to be ending that, and we are going to be replacing it with progress monitoring, which many school districts are doing anyway. This is short, individualized check-in assessments three times per year. This will take hours, not days, to be able to do these assessments,” DeSantis, flanked by legislators, education officials, teachers and parents, said during a news conference in Doral.

DeSantis said the proposal would lead to assessing students in the fall, winter and spring, which would reduce the amount of time spent each year on testing. The state Department of Education said the proposed system will be dubbed F.A.S.T., Florida’s Assessment of Student Thinking.

The governor described the proposed system as more “nimble” than administering standardized tests at the end of each school year.

“It also informs teachers in real time during the school year, so that they can better help students. These progress monitoring tools will be customizable, it will even be unique to each student. It gives the ability to have timely data during the school year, so you can make the necessary corrections,” DeSantis said.

The move would make Florida the first state in the nation to “switch from end of the year assessments to state standards-aligned progress monitoring,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

It also would mark a change from the approach that many Florida Republican leaders have taken during the past two decades. Former Gov. Jeb Bush spearheaded that approach, arguing that statewide standardized testing and accountability were needed to improve the education system.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future, which Bush founded, released a statement Tuesday that pointed to a need for "high expectations for students, strong summative assessments that are aligned to these expectations, school grading that holds the education system accountable for helping every child make progress and achieve, transparent and clear information for parents on their child’s progress and performance, and strong interventions and supports for students and schools that need it."

Levesque expressed support for part of the DeSantis proposal to move "statewide assessments to an online and adaptive testing approach," which she said "could provide teachers more flexibility to teach and students more time to learn, shorten testing time, allow tests to identify student performance more quickly, and return results back to parents and teachers more expediently."

But she said other parts of the proposal raise questions, such as whether  changes could create "high stakes stressors on students three times a year" and whether the spring progress-monitoring test would "simply be a replacement for the end of year test and result in teachers having less time to cover the full year of content."

Legislation to carry out the proposal has not been filed, but DeSantis said the current school year will be the last time the standardized tests will be administered if lawmakers approve the change.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said closing schools in spring 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and canceling standardized tests at the time made clear that the FSA was no longer needed.

“We looked at the progress monitoring data, because that’s what we still had. And what we noticed was … the FSA is kind of antiquated. With algorithms and where we are with computer technology, we can take that progress monitoring data and have the exact same accountability system,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran compared the current standardized testing system to an “autopsy,” administered at the end of the school year with data coming back that can be used in the next year. The proposal, Corcoran said, would be an ongoing “diagnostic system.”

Sarah Hall, a Seminole County teacher who was named the district’s teacher of the year in 2020, said an incremental approach keeps educators more in tune with students’ progress.

“This progress monitoring (provided) snapshots throughout the school year, which allowed me to not only meet the needs of my students who had some learning deficits and needed to improve, but also was able to provide me the opportunity to give my students meaningful enrichment when needed as well,” Hall said as she appeared with DeSantis and Corcoran.

An emphasis on standardized testing has long drawn criticism from the Florida Education Association teachers union and many Democrats.

The union, which has locked horns with DeSantis on other education issues, voiced support for the proposal Tuesday. In a statement, it said eliminating statewide standardized testing would represent “a big win for our students and public schools.”

“A student’s future shouldn’t hang on one high-stakes, make-or-break test, and one test shouldn’t dominate weeks that could otherwise be used for meaningful instruction,” union President Andrew Spar said. “We welcome today’s announcement as a sign that Florida is moving closer to a system that focuses on students’ growth instead of on high-stakes standardized tests.”

Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, touted the potential change on social media.

“As a former educator, my ears and mind are open to what’s next! I am looking forward to teachers getting back to GENUINELY teaching and moving away from teaching to a test. This can be a bipartisan push to lessen the pressure on teachers AND students,” Jones said in a tweet.

The 2022 legislative session starts in January, with pre-session committee meetings beginning next week.

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