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Columbia County Observer

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Gov. Scott: Give Kids a Break From Computer Plagued Tests

And you thought the Obamacare web rollout had problems.

Computer malfunctions, brand new curriculum standards and unparalleled stress have characterized the debut of the new Florida Standards Assessments. But could Florida’s testing debacle be alleviated by a stroke of the governor’s pen?

On Monday, 36 of Florida’s 67 counties – more than half – experienced technical difficulties with the new Florida Standards Assessment writing test, which was administered to eighth, ninth and tenth graders across the state. Log-on attempts failed, computers crashed, and unexplained error messages appeared on screens, according to Tampa Bay Times writer Jeffrey Solochek.

And it’s only going to get worse in April, when fifth- through tenth-graders take FSA language arts and math exams online.

“I can’t believe this happened on the first day,” said Becki Couch, a current Duval County School Board member and the body’s former chairwoman. “We weren’t even testing all students.”

“We can all say we’re ready but you really don’t know until you have everyone testing at the same time,” Couch said.

Now we know.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Tenth-graders will have to pass the writing test in order to graduate.

Couch, who is also former chair of the Florida School Boards Association’s legislative committee, reiterates the concerns of more than a dozen district superintendents, the teachers’ union and the FSBA. To read the concerns of sixteen school district Superintendents, who warned that their districts were not ready to administer the FSA.

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is downplaying the difficulties, emphasizing that the writing-test period will go on for two weeks and that there are make-up days built into the schedule.

At least one parent-advocate is not buying the state’s excuses. Colleen Wood, founder of the grassroots public education organization 50th No More, insists that the FDOE had to know how many students would be testing on Monday. She told First Coast News that with such high stakes surrounding the FSA, the FDOE should be “held accountable.”

In the wake of Monday’s enormous computer-test debacle, Gov. Rick Scott should step in where the Legislature and the Department of Education have, as of yet, failed to do so.

Last week, the governor surprised public school advocates by using an executive order to suspend an eleventh-grade language arts test that most educators agree was redundant.

Gov. Scott should now use his executive powers to relieve the stress and heartache of most of our three million public school students.

Nerves are on edge not only because of the computer foul-ups, but also because the new test, the FSA, comprises measures of newly implemented curriculum standards.

Many of the superintendents who publicly expressed reticence about administering the FSA wrote that they didn’t think teachers had time to fully teach the new standards to their students. Florida schools used FCAT 2.0 from 2011 through 2014, and prior to that, FCAT. Monday was the FSA’s debut.

The governor should declare 2015 a “field testing” year for both the FSA itself, and the computer infrastructure that’s supposed to support it. He should use his executive powers to ensure that student scores are used only as benchmarks, and that students are spared from any punitive consequences of this yet unproven instrument. We need at least a year to make sure this test is valid and reliable, to get the bugs out of the online system, and ascertain grade-level proficiency for each subtest given.

If Florida is serious about improving public education – and not just making a former governor look good for the White House in 2016 – we need to keep collecting data until we have two comparable sets of gain scores before we start basing life-altering decisions on the FSA.

Sen. Bill Montford’s got the right idea. He proposes a three-year “hold harmless” policy in SB 616. But that could take weeks to hash out in the Senate. Meanwhile, our students are suffering.

The governor has the power to mitigate the damage now being wreaked by overzealous politicians. Declare that the 2015 FSA is a field test only, and stop subjecting students to the extreme stress now being inflicted by adults who clearly don’t know what they’re doing.

Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.>

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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