Florida’s new standardized test for public-school students is valid according to a new study. The state Department of Education says that paves the way for the exam to be used in teacher evaluations and school grades.
The study on the Florida Standards Assessment was conducted by Alpine Testing Solutions and edCount, LLC, and gets a thumbs-up from Education Secretary Pam Stewart.
“We can certainly move forward with our standard-setting and our school grades-calculating,” said Stewart. “As well as providing the information that districts are waiting for, and the portion of the teacher evaluation that looks at student growth.”
The report’s finding that the test is kosher allows DOE to begin using it to calculate school grades and results, which are incorporated into teacher evaluations under the state’s performance-pay laws.
In the bill approved earlier this year, the Legislature put those uses of the FSA on hold until the study was done. It also lowered, from 50% to one-third, the share of a teacher’s evaluations tied to student performance.
Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas is among FSA’s critics. He says the questions surrounding it do not have simple “yes or no” answers. And what caught his eye was an analysis of English language arts questions for grades three and eight.
“Basically, only 65% of the items on the test matched the standards that the teachers are teaching in the classroom,” Thomas said. “That happened because they [DOE] were in a rush to use the Utah test in Florida. Which means that Florida third-graders are taking a test where one-third of the items cover content that’s not a part of our instructional protocol.”
Also problematic is the slew of technical problems and a cyber attack on a computer platform. The study concedes that because of those glitches, some FSA scores will be suspect. Those could include grades on 10th-grade tests that factor into whether students can graduate. Education Sec. Pam Stewart noted that those students are eligible to retake the tests.
Also critical of the exam is the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. In an email, spokesman Mark Pudlow said the report has “all kinds of red flags” that DOE should be addressing.
The new exam must now get the approval of the Florida Board of Education, and Thomas says there will be a push to make sure that the Board has actually read the report before then – and not just accept a public relations release.
At some point, says Thomas, public education in Florida will have to move forward, in restructuring the assessment and accountability system for schools. And he says the report is a good first step in laying out what should happen.
“It’s going to take some kind of Herculean effort over the next couple of months to be ready for 2016,” said Thomas. “Otherwise, we’re going to be right back here again, giving a test to students, where the content doesn’t match what we’re expecting our teachers to teach.”
With the study now public, preliminary FSA scores could be released in about three weeks, according to DOE. They’ll show a student’s percentile ranking on a particular exam, and compare their performance to others in that grade.