It’s that time of the year again -- students statewide will sit for the Florida Standards Assessment test at the end of the month, and the Florida Department of Education is working to ensure this year’s tests go off without a hitch.
Beginning Feb. 29, students from grades 4-7 will sit down for the FSA English Language Arts writing test, while students in grades 8-10 who need to retake the FSA will sit for the writing portion of the exam.
That portion of the FSA kicks off two months of testing, with the grade 3 English Language Arts reading test and grades 3-4 mathematics administered in March. After that, grades 4-10 will sit for the reading FSA and grades 5-8 will take the statewide mathematics test.
2016 marks the second year students sit for the test -- in 2015, the testing process was riddled with technical malfunctions which left many students unable to finish the FSA or log in at all.
This time around, Florida will be prepared, says the Florida department of Education.
“Over the last year, we have been working closely with the FSA administrator, AIR, to implement safeguards to prevent future disruptions and overall improvements for students’ testing experience,” wrote the department.
The department says it has worked on cybersecurity measures, assuring parents and students that AIR has upgraded its testing systems to further avoid any more testing issues this year.
Those weren’t the only technical improvements the department made this year. The FDOE also said it’s also worked on other technical improvements like a feature which would prohibit students from moving forward in the test before they are allowed to.
Last year, many students were approved by administrators to move forward in the test before they should have been allowed to, but a new safeguard would prohibit both the student and the administrator from moving ahead in the test too quickly.
The FDOE has made other non-technical improvements as well.
Districts have given students practice FSA tests to familiarize themselves with the testing platform. Districts are also required to complete a mock testing trial where they load the FSA on several different platforms to identify any local malfunctions.
The department says it has also been having monthly phone calls to speak with district assessment coordinators to address important issues leading up to testing.
The department says if students have prepared for the test, there shouldn’t be much concern about whether students are ready for the test or not.
“We advise our state’s residents that as long as students have a solid understanding of the Florida Standards, they should perform well on the FSA,” the department said. “The FSA are one of many tools used to help students, educators and parents determine how much and what type of assistance a student needs to excel in the next grade and/or course.”
Despite the department’s improvements, not everyone has been onboard with the FSA this year. Opt Out Florida Network has been one of the fiercest critics of the state’s standardized assessment test, pushing for parents to be able to have the ability to opt their children out of the standardized assessment test.
Their movement has gained steam with some state lawmakers, like Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who contends the FSA isn’t entirely necessary.
“You have to question the purpose of these tests, whether they're being used in the best way for children in advancing the public education system, or whether, in fact, they're being used to create a bastardized type of education system that's dependent on the private sector,” Pafford said in a recent press conference.
An alternative test to the FSA has not yet been determined, but a bill proposed by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to allow students to take exams like the ACT or the SAT in lieu of the FSA is making its way through Tallahassee.