FL will have a new statewide assessment system but hurdles lie ahead

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill to usher in a new testing system called ‘progress monitoring’ but critics are concerned

By: - March 15, 2022 7:50 pm
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Classroom. Credit: Pixabay.

Lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis have ushered in a new statewide testing system in Florida, but myriad questions remain about how the so-called “progress monitoring” system will work.

From how much time students and teachers will spend on the new methods and exams to how the system will gel with federal testing requirements, Florida will have to navigate a new way to test kids.

DeSantis held a press conference Tuesday to sign legislation that will bring the system into play for Florida’s massive K-12 system.

But already, things aren’t looking good.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a written statement: “This bill does not reduce testing but increases it. The bill does not focus on student learning or on providing teachers time to monitor and assess children’s progress. In fact, it probably will add more work for already overwhelmed teachers. Most basically, the bill fails students.”

The new system, “progress monitoring,” will replace the current statewide exams called Florida Standards Assessments (FSA). According to a planned timeline, this would be the last school year students will take the FSA exams.

Come next academic year, 2022-23, there will be three exams throughout the school year. Two of them are considered diagnostic exams to see how students are progressing.

But the third exam is the end-of-year cumulative and comprehensive assessment for reading and math.

Here’s what the legislation says: “For grades 3 through 10 English Language Arts, and grades 3 through 8 mathematics, the coordinated screening and progress monitoring system must be administered at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year pursuant to state board rule.”

The legislation specifies that the assessments will be computer based, but it’s unclear how much time teachers and students will need to prepare for each session. The Department of Education will develop or obtain the new assessments from vendors or other institutions.

The legislation outlines that results from these progress monitoring tests must be available to teachers within one week, and two weeks for parents.  That’s for the first two assessments. The final assessment must be available no later than May 31.

The statewide assessments are connected to various measures, such as grade promotion or retention and high school graduation.

For the 2022-23 school year, those measures will be “paused,” meaning that students will take the series of progress monitoring assessments, but their high school graduation or third-grade promotion will be determined by other factors, not the results of the assessments.

The results of the 2022-23 progress monitoring for the third cumulative test will establish a baseline for what scores say about a student’s achievement and proficiency in a subject.

By 2023-24, the third progress monitoring session will be used to determine measures such as high-school graduation and third grade promotion.

Yet, there are many unanswered questions: how long will each assessment take? How much time will that add up throughout the year? How much instructional time will be devoted to ensuring students are prepared for each session of the progress monitoring assessment?

Other questions relate to the federal law.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to test students in 3rd through 8th grades in math and reading annually for students in 3rd through 8th grade, and at least once in high school. ESSA also requires statewide science assessments at least once in elementary, middle and high school, but Florida’s new testing system does not address the science exams.

When DeSantis earlier announced the progress monitoring system, questions arose as to whether the new system would meet federal requirements and whether Florida would need a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to implement the new system.

A state or a group of states can use multiple statewide interim assessments that result in a single summative score, or a state can use a single summative assessment, according to federal education law.

Back in January, the USDE said this in an email to the Florida Phoenix:

“The department has not discussed this issue with the Florida Department of Education. In general, a state has discretion on designing an assessment system that best meets its needs, provided it meets the federal requirement.”

The Phoenix reached out last week for an update on this statement, but a USDE spokesperson said they did not have one.

DeSantis said Tuesday at the press conference in Pinellas County that, “We come today, not to praise the FSA, (the current statewide testing system) but to bury it.”

DeSantis says that the progress monitoring system will help track student progress throughout the year and “reduce” overall testing time.

“Under this new approach…this will take hours not days, and it will reduce overall testing time dramatically,” DeSantis said.

But the Florida Education Association disagrees.

“Educators and parents had high hopes when Gov. DeSantis announced in September that Florida would end its system of high-stakes testing for our students, but the bill signed into law today fails to meet those expectations,” FEA said in a press release Tuesday.

“Senate Bill 1048 does not reduce the amount of standardized testing that our students must endure, nor does it eliminate the big make-or-break test at the end of year.”

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.