Shannon Nickinson: High-stakes testing thrill ride ready to resume

It’s almost time to let the tilt-a-whirl of state standardized testing spin anew.

Next week, Escambia County students will begin Florida Standards Assessment testing in reading and mathematics. Santa Rosa students will start their testing in April.

Third- and fourth-graders will take the tests on paper. For fifth-graders on up, the tests will be online.

The computer-based testing model has already shown massive flaws, not just locally but across the state.

When students took the writing test earlier this month, technical problems caused the Escambia School District to suspend testing for three consecutive days.

Work begun was lost. Students couldn’t log into the system. Delays and error messages flashed on screens.

And the problems weren’t just in the Pensacola metro area. Districts all over the state reported similar problems.

By the end of the week, state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced that cyber criminals tried to hack the system, causing the problems. FDLE was investigating the matter.

If you think that was bad, just wait, folks.

“We only had three grade levels in that system, and they were only doing a writing test,” says Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “What’s going to happen over the next month is we’ll have grades 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 testing on reading math and science.

“We have yet to load the system to the extent that is going to happen in Florida. We are still concerned.”

Thomas and Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick were among a group of superintendents from across the state who asked the governor and lawmakers to put the brakes on the FSA train, because of their worries about the test.

On March 18, the House approved bill 7069 by a vote of 115-0.

It would eliminate an 11th-grade language-arts test, bar final exams in classes for which the state or a local school district has end-of-course tests and make a college-readiness test given to some students optional. It would also reduce how much of a teacher’s evaluation is tied to student performance and provide local districts more flexibility when it comes to testing.

Sounds good, right?

Until you get to the part where the House rejected two amendments to that bill.

One would have allowed parents to have their children take a paper-based test instead of a troubled online test. Another amendment to suspend school grades for a year was turned aside on an 80-36 vote, despite Democratic arguments that the new test needs to be evaluated.

But Democrats aren’t the only people raising concerns. Thomas and Wyrosdick are as Republican as it gets.

“It defies common sense,” Thomas says, “to take a test that has never been field tested in Florida, and sometimes hasn’t been field tested very much at all anywhere, and to do that and think you will quantify the results and use it to make important decisions” about a student’s future.

Thomas says if the system fails again, he will continue to call for some abeyance in the use of those scores.

“Any responsible person will question the validity of the test under those circumstances,” Thomas says. “You can’t proceed as if everything is normal.”

Shannon Nickinson is the editor of, a news and commentary site in Pensacola. Follow her on Twitter @snickinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida. 

Shannon Nickinson


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