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Democrats Push To Waive Impacts From Statewide Exams Due To Pandemic

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Florida school districts are planning to administer state exams next month, but don’t know how those exams will be used. Lynn Hatter reports as the testing window draws closer, a pair of Florida Democrats want the state to not put much stock into the results.

Florida uses its student assessments to grade schools, provide raises to teachers and promote or retain students. Last year, all three were held harmless from the consequences of poor performance. They’re hoping for the same this year. Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, says tests should go forward, but should serve as a baseline for where students are now.

“Testing data… shouldn’t be used for decisions on student retention or graduation, teacher effectiveness or school grades," he said. " Instead…assessments should be used to inform instruction, identify student needs and support.”

Schools are worried their grades could fall, triggering consequences as severe as closure. Many students are still learning remotely, raising concerns that those kids may not show up for mandatory in-person testing. There isn’t a remote option. And, in order for tests to count, 95% of students at a school have to be tested. Meanwhile, the state is in a tough spot too—if it announces tests won’t count, there’s concern students may not take them seriously, skewing results.

The conversation over testing comes as increasing evidence shows many students have been set back due to school closures and remote learning caused by the pandemic. It’s a concern also raised by Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, a former teacher, principal and school board member.

“This is no different from what happened at the end of last year because of the pandemic," she said. "As I speak to school board members across the state…this is something everyone can buy into. T’s about helping kids. We’re not saying don’t assess them. We’re just saying use the accountability system differently.”

The two lawmakers are pushing bills that would stave off consequences for bad test performance. In response to a request for comment, the Florida department of Education sent a statement saying in part, “Florida’s districts and schools have proven operating schools and administrating assessments can be done safely.”

The department says more than 840,000 tests have been administered this school year, and that it has already extended the testing windows for certain tests by several weeks.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.