TAMPA — Ever wonder how Florida students really compare with their national peers on standardized tests?
Hillsborough County will soon provide an answer.
The School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to test students in most grades this spring on the Stanford-10, a national test designed to compare students on skills commonly found on state-mandated tests.
The move came after surprising drops on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in elementary grades prompted superintendent MaryEllen Elia and other district leaders to question the state test's accuracy.
The district will pay $520,000 for something that the state used to provide: a way to double-check the FCAT.
"Ever since the state discontinued the use of the norm-referenced test several years ago, we've lost any external control on FCAT scores," said David Steele, the district's chief information and technology officer.
Hillsborough has been giving the Stanford in grades 1 and 2, and will now use money budgeted for that purpose to offer the test in grades 3 through 10 for reading and 3 through 8 in mathematics. Results are expected by June.
"If there is ever a (problem) in the future, this will play a major role in being able to challenge the state," board member April Griffin said.
Officials said the state plans to reinstate a norm-referenced test, which compares students with their peers rather than objective standards. But until it does, Hillsborough will fill the gap.
Elia said the next few years are a particularly important time to verify student learning gains, as the state overhauls the FCAT and the district uses test scores to gauge teacher performance under its $202 million reform effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"We're not interested in test, test, test," Elia said. But the district wants to make sure the assessments it uses are fair.
In other action Tuesday, the board unanimously approved applications for seven charter schools: Alexander Academy of Lutz, Community Charter Middle School of Excellence, Hillsborough Charter School West, Tampa Charter High School, Pivot Charter School, Florida High School for Accelerated Learning and New Springs Elementary School.
The board denied four others: Franklin Academy A, Franklin Academy B, Einstein Montessori School and Spectrum Education Academy.
Under state law, charter schools use public money but operate independently of the districts that authorize them.
Hillsborough has 30 such schools. The approved applicants must now negotiate contracts with the district to open schools next fall.