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Don Gaetz, State Lawmakers Push for Answers on Statewide Assessment Tests

January 14, 2015 - 6:00pm

After significant public backlash in Florida, standardized testing is taking center stage as one of the hottest priorities going into this years legislative session.

In December, former Senate president and chairman of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee, Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, had a few questions for Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart about Floridas K-12 state assessments, pointing out growing concerns over testing in Florida.

He and Stewart have engaged in an intense exchange revolving around exactly what the department is doing -- or not doing -- to further assessment tests in Florida.

In a letter sent to Stewart this week, Gaetz and members of his subcommitee and the Education Pre-K-12 Committee said they want specifics on how much time and money assessment tests will cost the Sunshine State. (See the letter in the attachment below.)

Calling their inquiries inspired by an abiding commitment to accountability, Gaetz pushed back on Stewart, pushing for specific numbers on how much time students will spend during the 2014-2015 school year on state-required assessment tests.

Last week, Stewart explained tests could vary in length -- some could be 15 minutes while others could take three hours.

You testified that districts have a wide and varying interpretation of these mandates wrote Gaetz. So in the absence of precision, please provide your best estimates.

Lawmakers also want to know exactly how much assessment tests will cost in state and local dollars, as well as how much the department will end up paying from developing and administering the tests.

A bigger question from state legislators: Are Floridas school districts actually ready to administer the new Florida Standards Assessment?

Members of the two Senate committees are concerned about the states apparent lackof preparedness to administer the new Florida Standards Assessments (FSA), read the letter. Specifically, the departments lack of a contingency plan and what some senators maybelieve is a lack of sufficient beta-testing or field-testing of the test items and testadministration platform.

Aversion to standardized testing isnt new in the Sunshine State. Many say theres too much of it, others claim the assessments arent good measurements of student learning -- prompting some school districts to want to opt out of the tests entirely.

That issue was also discussed in Tuesdays letter, with committee members asking Stewart to clarify the acceptable circumstances for students to opt out of standardized assessments, as well as what the potential consequences of opting out would be for students and teachers.

It is our hope that, armed with a complete and accurate picture of the assessment requirements and costs, we can work together to advance Floridas respected accountability system for the betterment of our students, teachers, and state, wrote the legislators.

The Florida Department of Education has until Feb. 6 to respond.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email atallison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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