By now the world of education knows and most have discussed the announcement Florida’s governor made Tuesday, September 14 that he would propose legislation for the 2022 session to end once-a-year state assessments in favor of three-times-a-year state assessments.
We’re moving at warp speed into a new era of testing, one that is not unanticipated by those of us who pay attention. Ed reform has been talking for several years about moving away from the once-a-year test into continuous testing, a/k/a progress monitoring, that is delivered through ed tech companies like Curriculum Associates (iReady) or NWEA (NWEA, whatever the initials initially stood for are not now known.)
Many Florida school districts already have contracts with one or the other. The Governor’s proposal is not quite there yet, though. He wants Florida to build a progress-monitoring platform that the state would own.
Currently, states administering either the Smarter Balance tests (previously administered by AIR, the American Institute of Research, but recently spun off into a stand-alone group, Cambium Assessment) or the PARRC (administered by Pearson, everyone’s favorite company to take to the whipping post) do not own the actual tests. They pay these companies to do their testing, but the copyright rests in the hands of the corporations.
In 2017, Florida passed its annual education bill that did another makeover of its state public education system, including charter school expansion and accountability requirements. But this time, the new law also required that Florida begin releasing actual FSA tests in three years to give everyone their first look at what children actually encounter. While Florida could pass this law, it did not own the actual tests. It would have to negotiate with the testing consortiums and pay for the release.
Then, 2018 brought the election of Ron DeSantis, who enticed the legislature into authorizing a new set of standards known as B.E.S.T., or Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking. The Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), now under the leadership of the former House Speaker, who is among the most hostile to public education ever, Richard Corcoran, promptly abandoned the obligation to release copies of a test that was heading for the exits.
Thus, since 2019 when the new standards were authorized, the Florida Standard Assessments (FSA) had an expiration date put on them circa 2023. The question was what would replace them. Most of us anticipated a BEST test as in la plus que ca change, the more it’s the same thing.
Except, if Ron DeSantis has his way, it won’t be. Shorter, more frequent tests will be the order of the day. The state will operate the testing platform, which means it will own the test items and the copyright. That might be good news except …. cue the shark theme from Jaws.
Recently, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) had to renew his driver’s license and the old one did not satisfy federal law for identification purposes. It wasn’t gold-star worthy. (Yes, that’s a very obscure joke thinking about Elaine Bennis of Seinfeld during the episode when she had to decide who was sponge-worthy.) GOT had to dig out all his ‘I’m a real person’ documents, including his birth certificate (really, at 64, someone doubts this?), social security card (soiled and faded because it’s about 50 years old), and utility bills, &c. &c. to verify the address.
When he arrived at the site where he had made an appointment and after he had moved through the security checkpoint, including walking through a metal detector, GOT noticed that the location had posted signs that the state’s computer network was wonky. They promised that if the state’s systems were down and people couldn’t complete their business, they would receive a priority appointment to come back at a later time. For your understanding, GOT made his appointment in late July and the first one available was in mid-September.
Then, there is the huge failure of the CONNECT system, which is what Floridians must use to apply for and receive unemployment benefits. It was so bad at one point that the state allowed people to fill out paper applications instead. CONNECT has been described as a system designed to fail, which surprised no one as it was the brain child of former Governor Rick Scott, who has built a political career on celebrating his escape from poverty and making it impossible for anyone else to do so.
This past week, GOT has been involved in putting students through a retake test for Algebra 1, for which students must earn a pass or they will not receive a diploma. As usually happens, someone decided right before this crucial computer test to change something. The software broke and chaos ensued as we spent hours reconnecting student laptops to all the needed networks so they could access the testing platform.
All of which is to say that no one should have confidence that a testing platform operated by the state of Florida will perform as needed. Indeed, assuming the opposite is the B.E.S.T. (pun intended) way to go.
End of Part One. GOT knows that screen reading is tiresome when the post grows too long. At 800+ words, it’s time for break.