FSA: Florida Sacked the Assessments

Educators across the state of Florida glanced at their phones the morning of Sept. 14 to the news by the Florida Department of Education that the Florida Standards Assessments test — the annual standardized test in public schools — will be discontinued by next school year. 

The test originally replaced the FCAT as the State of Florida’s premier exam to determine the promotion of a student’s grade level in 2015, serving as one of many examples of standardized testing’s controversial history in Florida. 

In an address at a South Florida school, Gov. Ron DeSantis and FLDOE Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that the 2021-22 school year is the last year for FSA testing. DeSantis said that it is time to, “Focus on the unique needs of each individual student.”

The pair also announced the alternative, a switch to statewide progress monitoring, administered three times a year in Florida classrooms. Progress monitoring is when teachers evaluate how students are responding to course material with standards. While the plan to switch is all but passed, the details have yet to be clarified as to how teachers will program these evaluations. 

Corcoran, the highest-paid state employee in Florida, also added that the reduction of testing leads to, “More teaching, [which] means you’re giving those kids a better education.”

FSA in the Classroom

Brandon Lancho speaking with Baker County Education Association President Angela Callahan. (Brandon Lancho, Florida Political Review)

For some students and educators alike, the high-stakes aspect of FSA was troubling. One voice that was prominent in the push to adopt a different set of standards was Angela Callahan, president of the Baker County Education Association. 

“I’m definitely glad it’s gone, ” Callahan told the Florida Political Review. “FSA became more and more impractical and was not testing subjects that students knew from the school year but rather things they may have known throughout the year or prior.” 

Another major hurdle for educators was the process of facilitating the exam for students. Callahan said the entire process was overwhelming and riddled with strict rules scripts that needed to be read out to the students. Students would become so nervous with the ordeal that some would have “nervous breakdowns” on exam day, Callahan explained.

“You’ve got to follow a script, and by no means can you say something off-script because that can cost your job,” said Callahan. “You can’t even tell students to ‘go back and check your work’ or wake them if they fall asleep.”

According to Callahan, FSA would cause educators to have to block off two weeks of technological preparation or practice tests for the assessments. In her school district specifically, Callahan said they spent an entire day rebooting the technology for the FSA exam in the past.

One of the biggest points of concern for many in opposition to FSA derives from FSA test results over the past few years where a majority of county school districts saw a dramatic decrease in pass rates in 2021. Callahan’s own Baker County saw a dramatic 19% plummet in the Grade 3 FSA Math alone, which has been largely attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the end, Callahan remains “cautiously optimistic” of its replacement, progress monitoring, because there is still more information to come. 

For example, in her Language Arts department, educators are focused on the Language Arts Florida Standards but are looking toward the implementation of Benchmark for Excellent Student Thinking standards in the future. Teachers then use these aforementioned standards in individual student assessments that last less than a day. Callahan enjoys these results because of their customization with students and ability to use data immediately to her teaching.

FSA and the Bigger Picture

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Brandon Lancho speaking with Florida Educators Association President Andrew Spar. (Brandon Lancho, Florida Political Review)

Another voice among Floridians who support DeSantis’s overhaul is Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Educators Association. Spar regarded FSA as a snapshot test on students because the assessments only go as far as to check on how much of the material has been retained in a student over the entire school year.

“FSA turned into a job performance evaluation without any feedback from teachers,” Spar said.

Spar looks forward to the greater impact of the proposed overhaul, reiterating that the customization of progress monitoring allows for equal opportunity for students and the removal of a hurdle that educators have been jumping for a long time. 

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured Image: Hand completing a multiple choice exam. Unmodified photo by Alberto G. used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3E2I7YH)

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