Teachers Union Criticizes Florida's 'High-Stakes Testing' for Disabled Students

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: February 27, 2014 3:55 AM
Disabled student and teacher

The Florida Education Association is making its voice heard against Florida's high-stakes testing, saying the assessment tests have "disturbing consequences" for students with disabilities in Florida.

On Wednesday, the teachers' union released a new video criticizing Florida's education accountability system and the requirement for all students to take either the FAA or FCAT test. According to the FEA, testing, not Florida's children, has become the focus for Florida’s education.

“Our kids are more than a test,” said FEA president Andy Ford.

The video features several students at the Polk County-based Karen M. Siegel Academy, a special school for students with complex disabilities. Many of the students featured are in wheelchairs.

Only a small number of Florida’s student population is allowed to take the FAA, an alternative assessment test to the FCAT. School principal Donna Swindle says the assessment is perfectly fine for 75-to-80 percent of those students, but not when it comes to students with multiple complex disabilities.

“When you get involved with students with multiple and complex disabilities, they’re different than the other students who take the Florida Alternate Assessment,” said Swindle.

Teachers argue in the video that the FAA is not appropriate for these students, in particular because it requires teachers to read the test to students. In some portions of the test, the teacher is required to show drawings to the student, which can pose an issue for students who are blind.

“I feel like it’s disrespectful to the student in many cases,” said teacher Kathleen Nall.

Other family members of disabled students called the assessment “disrespectful” to severely disabled students.

The video goes on to say, if the FAA continues to judge schools and teachers, other schools and special needs teachers may “cease to exist.”

“These high-stakes tests are valued above everything else by those who set education policy in Florida,” said FEA Vice President Joanne McCall. “We need to bring some sanity to this testing madness.”

The video drew fire from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, which criticized the FEA for using students with disabilities to promote a case against testing.

“Accountability benefits all students, and we continue to see that in Florida’s results,” said Executive Director Patricia Levesque. "Just last year Florida’s fourth-grade students with disabilities scored second in the nation among their peers in reading. Florida recognizes that there are circumstances in which the state’s tests are not appropriate, and a process is in place to protect those students.”

Under Florida law, all students in Florida public schools are required to participate in the state assessment tests. Most students take the FCAT, but with the Florida Standards’ implementation right around the corner, the FCAT will soon be replaced by another test. Under special circumstances, students with severe disabilities can apply for a special exemption from testing, but those requests have to be approved by the superintendent and the state education commissioner.

The issue is gathering steam with legislators.

Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, filed a bill earlier this month that would make it easier for students with disabilities to receive testing waivers and House Speaker Will Weatherford said legislators needed to do something about the issue “for sure.”

It’s unclear, however, what the effect of a new assessment test will be on students with severe disabilities. A new assessment test has not yet been chosen to replace the FCAT, but Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said she expects to make a decision on its replacement in March.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen. 

Comments (3)

12:59PM FEB 27TH 2014
Having been an ESE teacher for the last 37 years, I feel that I have the authority of experience to say that the FAA is an absolute joke as are Access Points. One must understand what Access Points are to understand the FAA. Access Points line up the NGSSS standards (regular standards) for students with severe disabilities and the FAA is designed to test those lowered expectations. There are so many problems with this, it would take a book to explain all, but the most troubling is so much of what I need to teach intellectually disabled children does not line up to any general education curriculum and is not included in Access Points standards nor tested on the FAA. Most of the questions on the FAA that a teacher must put to a child with an IQ well below 60 are insane and do not reflect many of the relevant things that I have worked with my students on during their time at school. The most disheartening and discouraging part of this is that my professional status is in jeopardy if I actually teach my students what my expertise tells me each child needs to be a participating member of our society. When one thinks of the expense that this testing and assessing costs the tax payers and the absolute waste it is, it's mind boggling. I don't care on which side of the political aisle you align yourself, we need to tell our government representatives, ENOUGH!
Peggy Tucker
11:51AM FEB 27TH 2014
As an elementary school principal with 38% ESE, I am most definitely for accountability. Gains should be counted and are evident every year. But, to ask a mentally challenged student to be counted for proficiency is like asking a wheelchair student to walk across the stage in order to earn his diploma!
10:06AM FEB 27TH 2014
This is rich. The teachers unions helped shove this down students, parents and teachers throats across the nation. Common Core, Race To The Top and high stakes testing is Credit Scores for children so employeres and other can discriminate against your children at will, all based on an untested theory. There is one difference though, at least the creators of the credit scroe fraud give you a way to "improve" your score. There is no provision for that in Common Core and Race To The Top other than to "comply" and learn to game the system. It does nothing to improve students learning, knowledge or ability to think. Indeed it is all intended to inculcate worship of the government and submission.

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