MANATEE -- A firm hired to evaluate standardized test scores for Florida students has said aggregated scores are valid to use for teacher evaluations and overall school scores and setting achievement levels.
"This is welcome news for all of us, including our parents, students and educators in Florida," Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a conference call. "Now, all Floridians can share my confidence in the assessment."
Now that the controversial Florida Standards Assessments have been "independently validated," the state will use the scores to calculate school grades, set achievement level scores and use them in teacher evaluations, according to information sent out Tuesday morning.
In a statement on Tuesday, Manatee County Superintendent Diana Greene said she is still concerned about the emphasis put on the tests, even though the tests have been deemed valid.
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"Whatever the results are -- and we are still waiting on the state to release school grades based on last year's FSA scores -- we will accept them in the spirit of the five C's that form the theme for this school year: Calmness, Consistency, Civility, Confidence and Community," Greene said in a statement released Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Stewart reiterated that even one student who is disrupted while taking a state assessment is too many but in the aggregate the impacts were minimal.
"When we are making state level decisions it's important that we look at the entire picture," Stewart said.
If the results are flawed at the individual level, how can they be considered valid overall? asked Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber.
"I find that pretty problematic," she said.
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing agreed. In a statement on Tuesday, the organization said the state misrepresented the study's results.
"This is hardly a blanket confirmation of FSA validity," Bob Schaeffer, the FairTest Public Education director, said in a statement. "The cynical attempt by Tallahassee bureaucrats to 'spin' the story conveniently ignores key evidence."
Manatee School Board member Charlie Kennedy said he wished the state would put as much time into figuring out how to fund public education as they did coming up with these "convoluted systems of accountability." Kennedy said he'd like to see a second opinion when it comes to the validity of the FSA.
"As a former teacher, I'm a little skeptical of this whole testing regime anyway," Kennedy said.
Student performance on tests can make up to 33 percent of a teacher's evaluation, down from 50 percent after school districts successfully lobbied the legislature last year. A teacher's evaluation is based on a combination of the individual teacher's performance plan, observations by administrators and the test scores.
"There's not much we can do but continue the fight against high-stakes testing," Barber said. "We're not going to stop doing that."
Board chair Bob Gause had not looked over the study results Tuesday afternoon, but said he hoped the state would consider having more paper-based, national tests.
Board members Dave Miner and Karen Carpenter did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Parents and families should expect to get percentile rankings for their students in about three weeks, although Stewart said that information is not as meaningful to parents because they won't say definitively whether they passed the test.
Those scores -- from the lowest at Level 1 to the highest at Level 5 -- are what parents are used to seeing. A Level 3 or above is considered passing. Those baseline scores won't be ready until November, but work to determine those levels started Monday, Stewart said.
Although the results are valid for group-level decisions, the firm said, the results should not solely determine whether a student is promoted to the next grade, needs remedial coursework or graduates high school. That's because a number of students had difficulty completing the online tests.
The testing period was marred by computer software issues for students taking tests online and with many parents and families across the state choosing not to take the test, or "opting out." Manatee County schools did not see a large number of students opting out. Online testing issues in the county were also minimal, officials said in the spring.
In Manatee County, the focus will be on the future, and this upcoming year, Superintendent Greene said in her statement, adding that teachers now have more and better resources for instruction and professional development is ongoing.
"We cannot change the past, but we can influence the future," she said.
The state hired Alpine Testing Solutions to determine whether the tests, which were based on new standards and given out for the first time during the 2014-15 school year, were valid.
The tests were administered by American Institutes for Research and were based on the Florida State Standards, a modification of Common Core.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.