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Pasco superintendent targets changes in Florida spring testing

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Recently reelected without opposition, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning says he's got his eye set on pushing lawmakers to alter Florida's testing system.

No, he isn't proposing to do away with it, as some critics would have. But he does want to temper the model.

"I will pursue a change with the Legislature to give districts flexibility when it comes to the manner in which the FSA is administered," Browning said. "Those districts that want to have pencil-paper need to have the flexibility to do so. I would be one of those districts."

Browning said that spot checks in his own district indicated that elementary children performed better on local quarterly tests when taking them on paper, rather than computers. He expected that to be the case more broadly on state exams, as children would not have to struggle with the technology skills that might hinder their demonstration of their knowledge.

A move to paper-pencil tests might also allow districts to compress the testing window to two weeks later in the spring. Without needing to rely on limited numbers of computers, schools could move kids in and out of testing rooms faster and in greater number, Browning said, leaving more time for teaching and learning.

"There's a great deal of disruption for those three months," he said. "Any way you cut it, the focus is FSA."

He proposed having state tests in all subject areas given from May 1-15.

Browning anticipated the oft-repeated response that computer testing allows for faster feedback on performance. He wasn't buying it.

In 2015, the results came back months late, he observed, yet schools still found ways to make decisions on retention, promotion and instruction.

"The world did not come to an end," Browning said.

State lawmakers and DOE leaders have not seriously entertained the notion of returning to paper tests in recent years, despite such recommendations by educators and others. Browning said he would pursue the idea, anyway, seeing that Florida's education accountability system is in flux and open to modification because of new federal rules.

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