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Proposal to replace Florida Standards Assessments with national tests hits a roadblock

An independent review says the ACT and SAT do not align with Florida's standards.
Land O'Lakes High ninth-graders await the start of the Florida Standards Assessments writing test in March 2015. [Pasco County School District]
Published Jan. 5, 2018
Updated Jan. 5, 2018

For years, many Florida educators, parents and students have argued that the state's public school children face too many tests.

One idea to lighten the load has been to replace some of the state's exams — particularly for high school language arts and math — with national ones that assess the same thing. Seminole County school district officials actively promoted the concept in 2015, and it has moved ahead in some form or fashion ever since.

Lawmakers took up the issue in 2017, with the results of their discussions morphing into a call for a study on whether the national tests would yield the information that Florida wants. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, long a skeptic of the correlation, said she'd be open to the change if the study revealed the exams were compatible.

The report, conducted by experts from Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, came back this week. And it stated that the tradeoff won't succeed.

The money quote from the conclusions: "It is the opinion of ASG and its partners that due to the alignment, comparability, and accountability system issues associated with the ACT and SAT tests, allowing districts to pick which of the three tests to administer to its students is not appropriate and likely will not meet federal ESSA peer review requirements."

The group found that the ACT would need "major" adjustment to meet Florida's 10th grade language arts demands, for instance, and the SAT would need slighter changes.

For Algebra I, both the ACT and SAT would require additional questions to reach state standards.

"While augmenting the ACT or SAT to gain an acceptable level of alignment is certainly possible, augmentation adds cost and complexity to the administration of the tests, since items used to augment a test need to be developed annually and administered separately from the college entrance test," the group wrote.

"Without such augmentation, the ACT and possibly SAT tests might not meet the United States Department of Education (USED) peer review criteria for aligned tests, thus jeopardizing the federal approval of Florida's plan to offer choice of high school tests to its school districts."

The group further suggested that the use of the national tests could create inconsistencies in the state's accountability system. It said it would not be fair to compare schools that continue to use the Florida Standards Assessments with those that choose ACT or SAT, because of the way the state considers student growth.

And it raised questions about whether the tests are interchangeable, saying the ACT and SAT do not appear to produce the same results as the FSA.

Stewart is expected to make a recommendation based upon this report. Read the full document for more information.

Not addressed, of course, is the larger question of whether the state needs so much high-stakes testing. It's still on superintendents' plates, and some lately have been passing around a Diane Ravitch column to spur the conversation forward.

Stay tuned.

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