DeSantis administration wants to reduce outdated state testing in FL but will the feds approve?

By: - September 14, 2021 12:24 pm

Testing. Photo by Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and even the statewide teacher union that often butts heads with the administration are celebrating the potential end of major statewide exams called the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) in reading and math.

But whether the federal government goes along with the changes is the big question.

Florida’s new proposed testing method — a way to reduce the slate of statewide tests in Florida — would be something called “progress monitoring” to track student performance throughout the year rather than administer specific state assessments required by federal law. That would be a monumental and historic change that at the very least would need legislative approval.

DeSantis described the FSA exams as outdated.

“I think that this is something that will make a really, really big difference,” DeSantis said at a Tuesday morning press conference at a public school in Miami-Dade County.  “I think this is something that’s very friendly to parents. I think it will be something that the teachers will appreciate because they’ll be able to make adjustments and really focus on the unique needs of each individual student.”

And Corcoran said, “when you reduce testing, that’s more time for teaching.”

That said, numerous questions abound about how the testing change can take place and whether it would be better — or worse — given the long history of federal law on testing students from all backgrounds to ensure they are meeting academic standards.

Dating back to the Republican George W. Bush administration in early 2002, the federal No Child Left Behind required testing in most grades in reading and math and in some grades, science (the FSA does not include the science exam in Florida). The Democrat Barack Obama administration continued that testing regimen in the successor to NCLB — Every Student Succeeds Act.

Would Florida need a waiver of some kind from federal laws on testing or would the feds approve the different testing method — progress monitoring?

The U.S. Department of Education told the Phoenix in an email that the Florida Department of Education has not communicated with the federal agency, according to a USDE communications staffer. However, a state has discretion to establish a standards and assessment system, provided that it meets the requirement of Every Student Succeeds Act.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of Foundation for Florida’s Future, originally started by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said in a written comment posted to its website that the organization applauds aspects of the proposal but also posed some questions.

“Does changing the nature of teacher-driven progress-monitoring tools create high stakes stressors on students three times a year?” the statement asks. “Will educators be required to teach on a schedule set by Tallahassee in order to be ‘on track’ for three statewide progress monitoring tests?”

“Will the spring progress monitoring test simply be a replacement for the end of year test and result in teachers having less time to cover the full year of content?”

Levesque says that the Foundation for Florida’s Future looks forward to working with the Florida Legislature, educators and parents to ensure “our system keep Florida’s students moving in the right direction.”

Later in the afternoon, the governor’s office published a press release on the matter, providing more information and noting that a legislative proposal to end the FSA would create the new progress monitoring system, which officials are now calling the “Florida Assessment of Student Thinking,” or F.A.S.T.

Florida would be the “first state in the nation to fully implement progress monitoring instead of end-of-year standardized testing,” according to the press release.

While educators and families may support the reduction in outdated testing, the state likely has a long road ahead to remove the usual statewide exams required by federal law, according to Robert Schaeffer, of FairTest, which promotes “fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools,” among other goals.

Schaeffer said the Legislature will have to draft legislation to be approved or rejected by Florida lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session. Then the state will need to check in with the federal government to make sure their new testing regimen in Florida would comply with federal law.

“Depending on the language that the state adopts, they will have to get approval from the U.S. Department of Education for the revision in their state assessments,” Shaeffer told the Phoenix. “The devil will be in the details of what’s actually required and when.”

Overall, under the progress monitoring system, it’s not clear what would happen to efforts such as holding students back a grade or failing to meet high school graduation requirements. And what about the A through F school grades that measure the progress of Florida schools? Statewide test scores have been a big part of the A through F grading system.

The Florida Department of Education’s website says that progress monitoring will mean “three much shorter tests in the fall, winter and spring” that would provide information about individual student growth.

But how would those shorter tests measure progress at schools and districts as a whole?

In a question from reporters at a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Corcoran said that of the three short tests, the one in the spring would be used to measure school performance, though it isn’t clear how that will work.

One thing is clear on the matter: The FSA assessments in the 2021-22 academic year will be required.

But under the proposals by the governor and the Department of Education the agency would “eliminate the FSA” in 2022-23 and utilize a “Unified PM (progress monitoring)” system.

The state expects to fully integrate the proposed progress monitoring system by the 2023-24 school year, according to the department’s website, which would involve state legislation and federal approval.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said in a statement that the union “looks forward to continuing to work on how Florida assesses K-12 students and teachers, so we can get it right in the long term. This is a great opportunity to address how we can use progress monitoring assessments to best serve students.”

This story includes additional material published throughout the day Tuesday.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.