Even after elimination, standardized testing remains polarizing in Florida

by | Jan 17, 2023

  • Standardized testing in Florida’s schools remains a hot topic issue, even after Gov. Ron DeSantis eliminated the Florida Standards Assessment in 2022
  • As the FSA’s successor FAST is in its infancy, education leaders are unsure of how it will affect classrooms 
  • Some, like Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar, take stances against testing traditions, while others, including some on local school boards, find benefits in their administering

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1048 into law last March, officially marking the end of the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). The test’s elimination began this current academic school year, replacing its administering with progress monitoring.

The testing drew criticism after complaints of curricula shifting to focus on passing the end-of-year tests rather than comprehensively teaching necessary material. The move was widely celebrated by teachers, students, and parents alike, with hopes that Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST) — FSA’s successor — can work more efficiently within the current educational framework.

While the tests are no longer handed out each year, their effects are still felt in classrooms, according to some in Florida’s education field, ranging from union leaders to teachers.

A teacher in south Florida that chose to remain anonymous said that the lead-up to standardized testing resulted in students having to alter the way taught information is retained, claiming students begin to operate on a mindset of learning to pass a test.

Interestingly, they claimed that FAST shows no sign of amending this.

“My problem with the FSA, and now the FAST, is that students don’t learn, they memorize,” they said. “There’s no room for expression or discussion because everyone’s graduation, job, and pay depend on test scores. I know teachers who have left the profession or switched to private schools because the testing handcuffed us as educators.”

Similarly, Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andrew Spar told The Capitolist that an overreliance on standardized testing oftentimes works to impede progress in graduation.

“I think what we see is that standardized tests tend to be an obstacle put in place that prevents students that would otherwise graduate from graduating,” said Spar.

The comment came following the Department of Education’s publishing of high school graduation rates for the 2021-22 academic school year.

The data shows that for the first time in more than two decades, Florida’s high school graduation rate actually dropped, albeit by less than a percentage point.

“There’s a couple of things to think about with standardized tests — first, parents don’t see these tests or the results. They see a score, but not the test,” continued Spar. “And two, the standardized tests replace the professional judgment of teachers and administrators at our schools.”

In 2020, Florida’s Department of Education issued a pair of emergency orders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, waiving all state assessments for the remainder of the school year before ultimately extending it through the 2020-21 school year as well.

Through the duration of the orders, the Department of Education recorded the two highest graduation rates since the inception of its data tracking, measuring 90 percent in 2019-20 and 90.1 percent in 2020-21.

Citing the high graduation rates in years testing was not given, Spar implied that when given the opportunity to move away from preparation for testing, which oftentimes predicates whether a student is eligible to move on to the next grade or graduate, a more comprehensive base of knowledge can be taught, leading to a higher rate of success in schools.

While Spar was critical of standardized testing, he was also unsupportive of DeSantis’ passage of legislation eliminating FSA testing, bluntly claiming in a past news release that “the bill does not focus on student learning or on providing teachers time to monitor and assess children’s progress.”

Others see another side to the record graduation rates, including Leon County school board member Laurie Lawson Cox, who claims that the graduation rate declined this year because the Department of Education’s emergency orders allowed unsatisfactory students to “slip through the cracks.”

“The rates dropped all over due to … students [getting] waived from taking state assessments and end-of-course exams that are required for graduation,” she said. “With those being reinstated, we saw how our kids had slipped through the cracks during COVID and online options.”

Likewise, former Governor Jeb Bush, who established the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in 1998, supports the use of testing measures.

“The point of testing is to assess the progress of students and use the data to reward success and reverse failure,” said Bush.

Bush’s education foundation ExcelinEd advocates for standardized tests to still be given, but with much less frequency, contingent on the tests being more comprehensive and of higher quality.

The group holds the stance that assessments can be powerful tools to strengthen learning and that Florida should make significant improvements to its assessment system.

The state estimates that removing the FSA will reduce testing time by upwards of 75 percent.

Diagnostic monitoring allows educators to track and receive real-time data reflecting the specific areas that a student may need remedial instruction on, while also allowing students to receive feedback in the current school year. Under FSA testing, students and teachers oftentimes didn’t receive testing results until the following summer break.

“Instead of having one major test at the end of the year, which provided no feedback to students before the summer came, we will do progress monitoring that would monitor progress throughout the school year; it will be shorter, it will be more individualized, and it will provide good feedback for students, teachers, and parents,” said DeSantis.

Overall school grades will be assessed based on the results yielded from progress monitoring checks, similar to how FSA scores previously factored into the grading of schools.

Additionally, progress monitoring intends to allow regulatory bodies to have more nuanced insight into individual school performance, which would curate a more accurate reflection of the grade a school receives.

Given the recency of FAST, its successes are yet to be determined. Educators are hopeful that it serves as an assessment model able to work as a mainstay, especially when framed against the four iterations of testing measures administered since 1998.


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