What can parents, students expect from Florida’s K-12 testing overhaul?

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the bill will reduce test times, but some educators disagree.
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, left, motions back to Gov. Ron DeSantis, as they address the audience during a news conference at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, in St. Petersburg.
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, left, motions back to Gov. Ron DeSantis, as they address the audience during a news conference at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 16, 2022

After this spring, Florida’s public school students will no longer undergo testing as they currently know it.

The state is getting ready to overhaul how it tests students by moving away from pencils and paper to a new computer-based system that aims to more frequently measure a student’s performance in the classroom.

But much remains to be done by state education officials before the testing changes can be rolled out in the 2022-23 academic year beginning in the fall. The company that will be in charge of the computer-based system, for instance, has not been picked yet.

As those details are ironed out through the rule-making process, parents and teachers are trying to understand what the looming changes mean.

Jennifer Martinez, Florida PTA president, said her team is working with legislators to understand the update so they can then tell parents what to look for, what to ask and how to advocate for their child by the time the new system kicks in.

“It’s hard to really convey into words (the changes) when you don’t have all the pieces in front of you,” she said. “There’s still quite a few things we’re trying to understand.”

But legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday does make a few things clear about what is to come next school year.

What’s coming next school year

  • The state will move away from a traditional pencil and paper exam and instead switch to a new computer-based progress monitoring system, unless there’s a specific need for a child to take a paper test.
  • From prekindergarten through 10th grade, students will be tested three times a year with the new computer-based system.
  • State tests in language arts and math will be administered at the beginning and middle of the school year, followed by a more comprehensive test at the end of the school year.
  • “Progress monitoring” results from the first two tests are to be provided within a week to teachers and two weeks to parents. The results from the third, “comprehensive, end-of-year” test will be made available no later than May 31.
  • The methodology for determining a student’s readiness for kindergarten has not been determined and will be developed by the state Department of Education.

Next steps

The state Department of Education will now begin crafting its rules and policies for carrying out the testing overhaul.

School districts will have a one-year grace period to adapt to the new system before accountability measures, like school grades, kick in. When learning-gains data become available in the 2023-24 school year, the State Board of Education will set the grading scale through the rule-making process.

The changes come six months after DeSantis called on lawmakers to revamp the state’s school accountability system by eliminating several of the annual exams and replacing them with shorter “progress monitoring” tests.

Related: DeSantis calls for an end to most spring testing in Florida schools

Florida schools have used mid-year testing for a number of years to help determine where students are succeeding and falling behind. The new testing model will continue putting a focus on that through computer-based monitoring that is meant to be tailored to individual students and provide quicker feedback to teachers and parents.

DeSantis said at a press conference on Tuesday that the current tests used by the state — the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA — do not offer that “good” real-time feedback.

“How are you going to remediate if you see problems when people are already out for the summer,” he said. “The FSA doesn’t give parents and teachers room to have those important conversations about what is important to the child’s education.”

Related: DeSantis signs bill to change student testing in Florida schools

DeSantis also said the bill will reduce test times, but some educators — including union leaders — disagree with him.

“This bill does not reduce testing but increases it,” said Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association. “The bill does not focus on student learning or on providing teachers time to monitor and assess children’s progress. In fact, it will probably add more work for already overwhelmed teachers.”

Teresa Murphy, a third-grade teacher at Spanish Lakes Elementary in Hialeah, expressed similar concern that the change could lead to “over-testing (students) in an effort to change the initiative.”

“I want (testing) to be more efficient,” she said. “And I don’t think we need more testing to do better testing.”

Third-grade teachers are trying to give students many opportunities to pass, whether it be with portfolios, i-Ready, or currently, the Florida Standards Assessments, she said.

“I’ve been doing so much testing that I feel like I haven’t been doing enough teaching,” she said.

Murphy acknowledged how progress monitoring throughout the year — instead of at the end — could be more beneficial. (Currently, the standardized tests are conducted at the end of the year and students’ scores are often not made available until after the school year ends.)

And though those test scores are helpful for the next teacher, assessing students’ progress throughout the year may be better, Murphy said. Obtaining real-time data could help teachers identify and address any learning delays or concerns among students.

Nevertheless, tests remain too long, she said. “We need something that’s more manageable.”

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