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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Cutting one test is not testing reform

Megan Lipinczyk, right, a language arts teacher, helps fourth-grader Sai Chappadi, 10, while using new laptops this month at Turner/Bartels K-8 School in New Tampa. Officials are assessing whether servers can handle so many computers at once.
Megan Lipinczyk, right, a language arts teacher, helps fourth-grader Sai Chappadi, 10, while using new laptops this month at Turner/Bartels K-8 School in New Tampa. Officials are assessing whether servers can handle so many computers at once.
Published Feb. 20, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott took a reasonable step in the right direction this week by pledging to eliminate an 11th grade English test in response to the public outcry against overtesting students. The Legislature also is looking for other redundant tests that can be scrapped. But the governor and state lawmakers still are ignoring the greatest public concern: Students, teachers and school districts simply aren't ready for next month's new assessments for the Common Core-aligned Florida Standards.

While the governor and state lawmakers nibble around the edges, the new standardized tests are barreling toward students in a couple of weeks. Yet there has not been nearly enough careful consideration and preparation for these new assessments. Scott foolishly dropped out of the multistate consortium developing the tests and demanded that Florida obtain its own assessments in an unsuccessful attempt to silence critics of Common Core. The tests have only been field-tested in Utah, which is nothing like Florida. The types of calculators that can be used on the math assessments were chosen in December, and just this month school districts and the state are testing whether there is enough technological capacity for so many students to be taking computerized assessments at once. No wonder teachers, students and families are stressed out.

Yet Scott, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and state legislators continue to tune out the concerns raised by school superintendents such as Hillsborough County's MaryEllen Elia, Pasco County's Kurt Browning and Pinellas County's Mike Grego. For example, the new tests are expected to be more difficult than the FCAT tests, which are being replaced. Yet the state will compare the results on the new tests to the FCAT results to arbitrarily decide what portion of students will fail and what portion of students will pass at which level. That is comparing apples to oranges, and it is fundamentally unfair.

It's good that Scott promises to issue an executive order scrapping an 11th grade English exam. It's good that the education commissioner is recommending more changes to the Legislature. It's good that lawmakers are finally focusing on overtesting, a culture they created, and considering how much classroom time is reasonable to spend taking tests.

But those good intentions are no substitute for doing the right thing and putting on hold any punitive measures tied to student performance on the new Florida Standards Assessments. The implementation of the new assessments has been too rushed and not adequately tested. There should be no school letter grades and no consequences for students or teachers for poor results on a test that has not been properly vetted or methodically rolled out. School board members and superintendents have been sounding the appropriate alarms for months, and the state has stubbornly refused to heed their warnings.

Eliminating one 11th grade test does not go nearly far enough.