Does the Florida Department of Education need to overhaul its testing and grading system? Some say yes, and they believe several things, including poor leadership and a flawed test, are to blame for the problems in Florida’s education system.
Criticisms of the state’s testing system aren’t necessarily anything new. In recent weeks, however, they’ve reached an amplified volume in the advent of a new lawsuit over third grade retention rates and the state’s A-F grading system.
Started in 1999 under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the test-based accountability system gave each school an A-F letter grade based on their performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Supporters lauded the system for bringing much-needed change to Florida’s education system, which sat at the back of the pack for decades prior.
The parent-led lawsuit, however, says the state’s grading system is massively flawed because it fails to account for students who don’t take the assessment test -- something all students are permitted to do.
Parents say Florida held back a group of third-graders because they refused to take the Florida Standards Assessment test, and blamed inconsistent guidelines for a wave of confusion leading their children to be held back a grade.
The lawsuit has been a resounding battle cry among critics of Florida’s longstanding testing policy, which has come under intense fire in recent years.
FDOE’s policy, the parents allege, allows students who take the tests and score poorly to excel and move onto the fourth grade even if they score poorly. On the other hand, a student who performs well in the classroom, passing a class, can be held back because they didn’t take the FSA.
“Test participation is treated as more important than actual performance,” wrote the plaintiffs.
Other statewide education groups feel similarly. Many have said for years the FDOE cares more about test performance than students’ actual learning.
Schools with high letter grades get more money, but critics say those grades don’t necessarily paint the entire picture.
For example, some schools can have vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds than others, which can strongly affect their academic and test performance.
Parents with more money can afford to hire tutors, purchase supplemental material and buy computers, commodities poorer families often cannot afford -- all of which can contribute to lower grades in school and on the FSA.
“The greater absurdity of the system is [the department] doesn’t bracket schools by socioeconomic disparities,” Mark Halpert, founder of Florida Advocacy Coalition on Learning Differences and president of Learning Disabilities Association’s Florida chapter, told Sunshine State News. “The way they use this grading system is pathetic.”
Others say teachers are also suffering at the hands of high-stakes testing, with students focusing much more on the testing process than their year-round teachers.
“It seems like they just want to replace the teachers with computerized testing and turn the teachers into babysitters or computer monitors,” said executive director of Florida Stop Common Core Coalition Karen Effrem.
“I think that relying solely on one test when they have been taught and watched and monitored by their own teacher for an entire school year and have taken all sorts of other progress monitoring tests...it really speaks to the horrific lack of trust that the state has in teachers,” she continued.
Circuit Judge Karen Gievers said last week she may rule to block the law, but scheduled a hearing on Aug. 22 to hear from school districts mentioned in the suit.