Six months after students wrote their exams, Florida encounters a rebellion led by the 67 superintendents of the state’s schools.
They argue that the tests are flawed for two reasons. Firstly, due to the fact that they were made for schools in Utah and based on the curriculum taught there, and secondly because of continuous uncontrollable technical glitches when they were brought to Florida.
The use of these apparently flawed tests would negatively impact some teachers’ evaluations, and is therefore being challenged. These superintendents do not stand alone though. Supporting their cause are the Florida PTA, Florida’s School Boards Association, teachers and administrators.
Due to grading standards not yet being set, scores have not yet been released. Under an initial recommendation, barely half of Florida’s schoolchildren in most grades would pass the new math and English exams. Furthermore, grades would drop further with some members of the Board of Education rallying for even tougher scoring.
At a recent school board meeting, Miami-Dade County schools superintendent Alberto M Carvalho said, “This is probably the most important issue facing all of us. The fight is not over. But I can tell you the state seems pretty adamant in moving forward as quickly as possible, even in the face of incomplete, inadequate, possibly corrupted, invalid and unreliable data. If there is ever a time to press the pause button, this is the time.”
Most direct penalties in relation to the new tests have already been suspended by the state. Students will not be held back a grade if their scores are poor and school grades will not be a factor in punishing failing schools.
Although this year’s scores on the test (known as the Florida Standards Assessment) will be used to grade schools, said grades will not be used negatively, say State education officials and Republican lawmakers. They say the grades are important in providing information to parents, make schools liable and are required by state law.
A study was conducted by a test development and research group, Alpine Testing Solutions, which concluded that the scores could be used by the state to come to a general deduction about groups such as schools or teachers.
Florida’s education commissioner Pam Stewart says, “I personally believe that it is important that we inform schools, principals, parents and teachers how their school is performing. Absent a school grade, we lose out on that momentum.” In her opinion, a lot of the anxiety comes from the concern that student scores will fall this year due to the new test being more difficult than the old ones.
Mr Carvalho says, “We want to protect a system that, we believe, is mortally wounded. To proceed could further erode the public’s confidence in an accountability system that, for a long time, was seen as a model.”