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Florida schools get more time for spring tests due to coronavirus concerns

Parents, school officials have raised questions about adequate spacing, time to administer the annual exams.
Ninth-graders at Land O'Lakes High School wait to get startedon the writing part of the Florida Standards Assessments in 2015. In 2021, the state has will require in-person testing despite the pandemic, and has offered schools more time to administer the exams so students don't have to sit this close together.
Ninth-graders at Land O'Lakes High School wait to get startedon the writing part of the Florida Standards Assessments in 2015. In 2021, the state has will require in-person testing despite the pandemic, and has offered schools more time to administer the exams so students don't have to sit this close together. [ Pasco County Schools ]
Published Feb. 15
Updated Feb. 15

Facing mounting concerns about the safety of in-person testing, the Florida Department of Education on Monday announced it would give schools two extra weeks this spring to conduct the Florida Standards Assessments.

“This emergency order simply delays statutory deadlines for the reporting of assessment results, so districts and schools can implement lengthened testing schedules,” K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva told superintendents in a memo accompanying the emergency order. “This allows for more continued social distancing during test administration.”

Many parents — especially those whose children have been taking courses remotely from home — have said they do not want to risk getting their youngsters exposed to the coronavirus by returning to campuses to sit for the tests. The state tests will be available in-person only.

Several have shown interest in opting out of the assessments, some of which are used to determine course grades and grade-level promotion.

Related: Florida schools will resume state testing, in person. Some say no way.

The state’s announcement met some school district officials’ request to be allowed to space out the testing, and offer an added level of safety. Tampa Bay area superintendents have said they are exploring the idea of bringing in smaller groups of students at night and on weekends.

But this latest step did not appeal to everyone.

“It’s not good enough,” said Laura McCrary, an organizer of Opt-Out Pinellas whose son has taken his classes from home all year. “There’s not enough guidance provided to districts, and districts are going to be left on their own to decide what’s safe and what’s not.”

Stephanie Cox, a Pinellas parent who has wavered on whether to send her son to school for testing, had reservations about the state’s plan, too.

“Extending the testing window doesn’t make testing any safer for students,” Cox said. “It only takes one positive person to spread COVID when students are sitting in a room for an extended period of time.”

She questioned whether schools could manage an extended assessment window, noting that many educators and support professionals already are stretched during a normal year of testing when their numbers aren’t depleted by quarantines. Beyond that, she wondered why the state couldn’t cancel testing as it did last spring, noting that students have sat for several rounds of district assessments to determine their academic progress throughout the first three quarters.

“The state should ask districts to provide them with that data and students and teachers should be held harmless from high stakes accountability measures this year,” Cox said. “The state can gain many teaching minutes back by not requiring these tests this year or at the very least, make them informative and not punitive.”

Two Broward County Democrats have filed legislation to withhold the consequences attached to the test results. The House version has been assigned to four committees, and the Senate version to three committees.

Sue Woltanski, chairwoman of the Florida School Boards Association legislative subcommittee, noted that Gov. Ron DeSantis enacted such steps through executive order in 2020, and suggested the administration should consider doing so again rather than waiting for lawmakers to act.

Related: Florida scraps K-12 testing, students to stay home through April 15, DeSantis says

So far, the administration has repeatedly asserted the importance of testing.

As it stated in Monday’s order, “the testing that is required by state and federal law is now more critical than ever so that educators and parents can measure progress and determine what additional services and supports are needed to ensure that each student is given the services and supports they need to succeed in life.”

The administration has not weighed in on how the results will be used.