Let schools use simpler alternatives to state tests

WALT GRIFFIN SCPS SUPERINTENDENT

Orlando Sentinel |Opinion

printed July 19, 2015

It’s a solution that would have pleased Henry David Thoreau, who urged, “Simplify, simplify.”

Seminole County Public Schools had fits this spring administering Florida’s new standardized test. So Superintendent Walt Griffin wrote state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on Monday to request her support for a simple, economical alternative for his district: reliable, reputable national exams.

It’ll take a change in state law to give school districts the flexibility to substitute tests such as the Iowa Test or SAT for the Florida Standards Assessment. But Stewart’s support for this reasonable change could help persuade lawmakers to act.

School districts throughout Florida rolled out the FSA for the first time this year. In many districts, the test’s debut was a debacle. The FSA must be administered by computer, and network, software and other technical problems forced districts to suspend testing — in some cases for several days.

The computer mandate also left Seminole and other districts no choice but to close their school media centers to other students for days while testing took place. It forced them to raid classrooms of their computers, making them unavailable as learning tools for students who weren’t taking tests.

The FSA ended up disrupting instruction at Seminole’s middle schools for 29 days and high schools for 31 days, according to Griffin. These testing woes aren’t evidence of poor management in the district. Seminole is A rated, and has been one of the state’s top performers for years.

Widespread problems with the FSA led lawmakers this year to require that the tests be evaluated before results get released. That will delay scores from going out until at least September, three months behind schedule. The evaluation will add another $600,000 to the $220 million that the state is spending over six years on the FSA.

Districts wouldn’t have suffered this year’s testing problems if they had been free to use the Iowa Test and SAT. Both are paper-based exams. Griffin said they would have reduced testing time to four hours, and produced results in about 30 days.

Stewart, in a Friday letter to Griffin, wrote “other assessments would not be able to measure student achievement of our state’s specific educational benchmarks and expectations appropriately.” But Florida’s standards differ only slightly from the Common Core standards used in other states. And the Iowa Test and SAT, along with other national tests, are aligned with Common Core.

Griffin said he’s not arguing for Florida to abandon its commitment to accountability in education. Nor are we. Tests are an essential tool to hold schools, teachers and students accountable for results.

But if Stewart doesn’t change her mind — if Florida’s education leaders decree that districts have no alternatives to expensive, troubled tools like the FSA — shaky public support for accountability will collapse.

Read article printed in Orlando Sentinel here.

 

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