The first round of tests for the new Florida Standards has started and things are not going smoothly. Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas is dealing with a lot of frustrated students and teachers.
"The last few days have been very traumatic for students trying to take the Florida Standards Writing Assessment".
And he’s not alone. School districts across the state are having trouble logging in to the new state testing system for students.
Thomas and eight other superintendents met with Governor Rick Scott last month and told him of their concerns going into the testing period. One of the issues was over testing and the Governor responded to that by cancelling an 11th grade English exam. But no action was taken on the computer based operating system. and it’s that technical platform that has led to this week’s problems.
Thomas said, "the most serious problem, as you might expect, is the inability to log onto the system. I mean that's the first thing you're going to have to do. The teacher has to log in to set up a test session and then individual students have to log in."
Thomas says that was the major problem on Monday. Since then he says logging in has become easier, but what he considers a worse problem is happening. "Students are being knocked off the system." Students are being timed-out while they're in the middle of a test and when they log back in their writing work is gone, so they have to start all over again and, usually, cannot finish the test in time. This leads to an incomplete test being graded, which Thomas says is not fair to the student or the school district.
School superintendents across the state have asked that district grades be frozen for this year. Malcolm Thomas says, "How are you going to give a grade based on a student's writing score when he was not finished with his writing test, the system kicks him out and he's unable to complete? Are we going to give that student a low score and then that counts on a school grade and a school might get an F? That is no way to have accountability."
The problems are occurring all over the state, and Thomas says all the superintendents are in contact to get updates on progress in fixing the issues. In Escambia County, they are taking things slowly. After the problems on Monday they postponed tests on Tuesday and Wednesday to give the state some time to fix the issues. They will resume testing on Thursday for the eighth and ninth graders. They will delay testing the tenth graders until next week because Thomas says they have the most at stake. These tests "are part of what's required for their graduation, so we want to give them the best opportunity to be on the most stable technical system."
One more thing, there is no plan B. Thomas says they asked the state education commissioner on a conference call on Monday if a paper and pencil test could be ready if the system remains unworkable. The answer was no, it's just too late. There is no way for the state to print and deliver a paper test by next Friday.