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Shannon Nickinson: Educational testing in Florida: This is not good business

This is no way to run a railroad — or a state education system.

In recent weeks, problems with the Florida Standards Assessment writing test made headlines. Schools in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties reported problems and testing was suspended for a time.

After nearly three days of complaints from districts across the state about the technical problems that plagued the online-only test, state officials announced that hackers are believed to be at the root of problems. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating, but there has been no public word on progress since the news conference.

That’s not good business, friends. What makes it worse is that this isn’t the first time technology has failed our children and their teachers this school year.

Back in September, the state announced the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) would not be given statewide for children in grade K-2. In Escambia County, the test was given to determine kindergarten readiness.

Why, pray tell?

The gory details are all here, but here is the bottom line. The test used to be pencil and paper. This year, it was all electronic.

Subs were needed to cover classroom time while teachers administered the test. Some districts’ computer systems couldn’t handle the demands of the test. Results wouldn’t upload, etc. etc. etc.

So when will we know how well prepared this year’s kindergarteners were when they came through the schoolhouse door?

Bruce Watson, executive director of the Escambia County Early Learning Coalition, says he has been told it will be sometime in May before the state will have kindergarten readiness scores. You can search the readiness scores of VPK providers here.

And when those scores do come out, there will be a catch — as there so often seems to be with state education data.

These scores will be based on half of the information available in previous years, so they won’t be a strict apple-to-apples comparison.

This is how it starts.

When the FCAT was in its glory days, tinkering with the testing formula started small. Add writing. Add learning gains. Add science. Before long, the test had been so altered — the bar for “passing” fiddled with so prodigiously — that year-to-year comparisons became almost meaningless.

State lawmakers are falling all over themselves at this very moment to claim they are “easing the burden of testing” on our children by eliminating one test for high school juniors and culling the field of end-of-course tests.

To hear Tallahassee tell it, the scales have fallen from their eyes. They have heard the cries of parents, teachers and students over these last 15 years about over-testing.

They will sacrifice no more children on the false altar of “accountability” using measurements that are not consistent year over year.

And on the other hand, they marched students into a new testing system that has not been tested in the field — and, apparently, is vulnerable to cyber attack.

Does that sound like seeing the light to you?

Shannon Nickinson is the editor of www.progresspromise.com, a news and analysis website in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

 

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