Browning seeks changes to state testing system

Published July 20 2016
Updated July 21 2016

Recently re-elected without opposition, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning says he plans to push 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 of the Florida Standards Assessments. "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 ability to show what they know.

Paper-pencil tests might also let districts compress the testing window later in the spring. Without needing to rely on limited 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 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 Department of Education leaders have not seriously entertained the notion of returning to paper-pencil tests in recent years despite similar recommendations by educators and others.

Browning said he would pursue the idea, anyway, given that Florida's education accountability system is in flux and open to modification because of new federal rules.

SURPRISE! Most summers, getting an Advanced Placement score report is a private affair. The document is posted online and students click to learn if they aced or tanked their test.

River Ridge High School principal Toni Zetzsche and assistant principal Jessica Meek recently spent a day cheering students who killed it.

"We wanted to give them a face-to-face congratulations," Zetzsche said.

The two administrators visited the homes of River Ridge students who earned a 5 -- the highest -- on one or more of the many tests that could gain them college credit. They put up a sign, posed for photos and made the students feel positive about their accomplishment.

It all got documented on Twitter.

Pasco County schools (@pascoschools) tweeted, "@RoyalZetch and @RoyalMeek1 are visiting more than 40 homes today to celebrate students who scored a 5 on AP exams."

Some students weren't home, but they still got the message.

As Sarah Moyer posted, "Well this was a pleasant surprise to come home to... You guys are the best! @RoyalZetch @RoyalMeek1"

Sometimes, parents accepted the news: "Devin Pruitt — your mom waited all day and you're not home," Zetzsche tweeted. "She's the best!! #proudmama"

Others in the community noticed, too.

Wrote Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley (@brianecorley), "This epitomizes leadership! Pasco is blessed to have such caring & dedicated Principals & Assistant Principals!"

Zetsche said she and Meek came up with the idea as part of an ongoing effort to celebrate student and teacher achievements and to build positive relationships within the community. Before the first visit, she said, they didn't know what kind of reception they would encounter.

"After we visited that first house, we realized how awesome it was going to be," she said.

By the final stop, eight hours after beginning, the administrators had been invited to meals, and also started getting messages from students who didn't earn a 5 on an exam. They told Zetzsche they were encouraged.

"They said, 'I'm going to get a 5 because next year you're coming to my house,' " she said. "We built some really strong relationships."

And they're not done. Zetzsche said the school has more activities in store as students return to classes Aug. 15.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek

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