State Sen. John Legg correctly recognizes that there are too many standardized tests in Florida's public schools and that they frustrate students, teachers and parents. But his proposed solution of a test-free period around state-required tests is impractical and just one more instance of Tallahassee micromanaging local schools. The Legislature should focus on the bigger issues regarding implementing the Common Core Standards and those still-undetermined assessments — and stop dictating to local school districts that need greater flexibility.
Legg's bill, SB 852, would ban school districts from administering their own assessments in the two weeks before and after state standardized test dates. Advance Placement, International Baccalaureate and industry certification tests would still be allowed in the test-free window.
The lawmaker's solution to overtesting sounds good but creates too many other problems. Students taking the FCAT 2.0 this week would otherwise be test-free Feb. 11 to March 11, creating conflicts with local districts administering their own assessments. And with the state's FCAT exams for reading, mathematics and science scheduled for April 14-24, districts would be precluded from doing their testing from March 31 to May 1. It's an unrealistic schedule. In Pasco County, for instance, educators, working around a teacher planning day and spring break in the second semester, would have to cram district-based assessments into just a few days.
The artificial four-week clear zone is intended to put an emphasis on the state tests. But it fails to acknowledge that the Legislature helped trigger the high volume of local assessments with demands for data-driven evaluations of teachers based on student test scores. That's tough to do when students don't sit for their first FCAT until the third grade.
Florida's standardized testing mania began with the introduction of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, FCAT, in the mid 1990s. The importance of that test exploded in 1999 when the state began assigning school letter grades and handing out bonus payments based on students' performances. Two years later, the federal No Child Left Behind law required more frequent assessments to measure whether children are reading, writing and doing mathematics at grade level. Among the problems with the standardized test schedule is the frequent interruption of daily school activities. During exam periods, children are denied so-called special classes — art, music and physical education — and access to computer labs that are turned into test centers for weeks at a time.
In that regard, Legg is responding to local concerns. The heavy testing, he said, does not consider the students' point of view. He has identified the problem accurately but failed to find the right answer. Negotiations with educators and House members are likely to produce a much different version of this bill during the coming legislative session, Legg acknowledged. There are too many tests, but the answer is giving school districts more flexibility and not less to fix the problem.