Editorials

Florida's new student standardized tests should only be baseline, not rating on schools, teachers

From the Legislature to the state Department of Education, Tallahassee appears tone deaf to the ever mounting opposition to the fundamentally unfair application of the first-year results of student scores from the Florida Standards Assessments.

Even when the state launched the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in 1998, those scores only set a baseline for following years and did not determine school grades that first year. Today, though, Tallahassee is poised to grade elementary and secondary schools and evaluate teachers based on the first year of the FSA despite the immense backlash from school district superintendents, teachers and parents from across the state. There's simply no way to compare education accountability from this past school year to previous years since the standards and tests differ.

Include Manatee County School District Superintendent Diana Greene among those in vocal opposition to this misguided state policy.

The county school board is also sending a message to Gov. Rick Scott's office and the Legislature in a letter objecting to an onerous accountability system too flawed to be useful in improving education in the state.

The board recently voted to send a letter similar to the one written by the Central Florida School Board Coalition requesting fixes in this system, joining the statewide chorus of voices asking the state to issue "incomplete" grades for the 2014-2015 school year without punishing students, teachers and districts for a bungled testing season.

Those tests were compromised by computer software failures, cyber attacks and other issues, rendering results questionable at best. Manatee County students did not encounter much in the way of online issues, but the overall state impact and past policy should be the deciding factors.

But Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart deems the test scores valid for teacher evaluations, school scores and achievement levels, stating several weeks ago that "Now, all Floridians can share my confidence in the assessment."

Not so.

Lack of faith in new system

In the aftermath of that statement, the Florida School Boards Association's legislative committee issued a resolution seeking the governor's and education department's decree to "waive" those new exams. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents earlier announced it had "lost faith" in the state's accountabilty system.

The state's new curriculum, implemented last school year and based on the national Common Core standards but rebranded and slightly altered to become Florida Standards, rightfully puts in place more rigorous standards for students with the expectation they understand concepts better.

That's not the controversy here. Higher standards should be in place when you consider Florida ranks a dismal 45th out of 50 states in one measure of student achievement, eighth-grade math scores on a national test.

Just last week, the Florida Board of Education sought more data on passing marks for the new statewide assessment from Stewart. The board is scheduled to vote on those so-called "cut scores" -- higher than the old FCAT marks, she said -- in January. Then school grades will be calculated.

The widespread frustration over Florida's public school testing system has warranted an "Opt Out" movement among parents who strongly object to the over-emphasis on standardized testing. They allow their children to quit taking these exams. Just days ago, even President Obama acknowledged the federal government's role in this overzealous application of tests.

While this is a different aspect to Florida's current conundrum with FSA scores, the state should listen to stakeholders and not let a flawed test harm schools and teachers. Incorporate this year's marks as a baseline, not a judgment.

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