You know it’s time to retire when you cannot keep up with the acronyms. Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (actually a decent name that gives away the longstanding pretense that the reading test is testing reading) is an easy one for Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) to puzzle out, but he admits B.E.S.T. keeps him googling for the B: Benchmarks for Excellence in Student Thinking.
And that tips us off that while Ringling Brothers retired the elephants and the pungent smell of elephant dung departed from the Big Top, well, that Florida smell of standardized testing remains no matter what we call it.
And yes, GOT has an attitude and is proud of it.
The first problem with F.A.S.T. is that Florida is moving too fast; it is implementing a new test before they are ready. For those not in the know (IYDK, YDK), the new assessment is given three times a year. Rather than a summative, once-a-year event, test that tries to determine what students have accomplished, F.A.S.T. is meant to be progress monitoring, an ongoing effort to see how students have improved since the last test.
As a result, F.A.S.T. is given three times a year: once in September, currently described as a baseline test to establish where a student is starting from; once around Christmas, a mid-year check; and lastly in May, to determine at what level a student is finishing the school year.
We’re not ready. As School Testing Coordinator, GOT has spent the last week trying to organize the first administration of FAST in his high school. Fortunately for him, it’s only reading although middle and elementary schools also have to do math. Plus, and it’s beyond the scope of this post, elementary schools are also dealing with K – 2 testing that takes place on a different platform (Renaissance vs. Cambium) that operates under different rules and guidelines.
But Florida loves a test, amiright? AMIRIGHT?
Too bad no one ever asks people at the school level how a new school year rolls out. Many problems exist in getting things underway. First, not every student has a laptop. Like other districts, GOT’s district went one-to-one during the pandemic because the feds were funding unlimited technology purposes. But that meant that schools no longer have computers available for the students who are new to the school and need one issued, leave their computer home intentionally or unintentionally (hopefully, no one is naive enough to believe that students won’t leave their laptops home to avoid the testing that they hate), have broken their laptop and are waiting for repairs, or left it in the closet for three months and, when they turn it on for the first time in a testing room, the district network no longer syncs with it.
The second problem is that the whole F.A.S.T. testing system depends upon districts uploading accurate student information into the testing platform. Known as T.I.D.E. (has GOT mentioned how hard it is to remember all the acronyms? Google to the rescue, it’s the Test Information Distribution Engine), every test administration requires that the students who take the test are uploaded into the platform.
Once the upload takes place, the school’s test coordinator has to go through it to make sure the information is accurate, there are no extras and there are no missing students. Students that are not there have to be added one by one, which takes a considerable amount of time as the coordinator has to look up their birthday, Florida test identification number (not to be confused with their school id number), demographics, and 504/IEP information.
After that, administration records for each testing room/session have to be created. These records are a holdover from the days when are state testing was paper and pencil based, but Florida has never seen a need to update them for computer testing. You can tell a new coordinator when they ask what to put down for the security number for a computer test that has no security number! Leave it blank, they are told, but the document is required even as it no longer serves much of a purpose.
Don’t believe GOT? Each teacher serving as a test administrator has to sign this document that they received each child’s secure testing materials when, in fact, there are no secure materials for them to pick up.
The third problem is that savvy test coordinators know to create testing rosters because that makes it much easier to create administrative records and the test tickets students need to log into the test.
But the rosters are now being used to create reports that teachers must send home. If a test coordinator creates a test roster and assigns it to a teacher who does not actually teach a student they will test, why horrors! That teacher will be able to see the test result.
So, rostering for testing groups is forbidden. GOT is still figuring out an efficient workaround for that.
The fourth problem is the timing. For secondary schools, the test time is 60 minutes but students may have up to 90 minutes to complete a reading assessment. Then, accommodations have to be determined. Do we use 60 minutes or 90 minutes as the base for determining how much more time to allow students with IEPs or 504 plans?
The state cleared that up with a message to districts to allow the maximum, that is, calculate based upon the 90 minutes. Then they added this kicker that districts passed on to schools: allow the kids to finish so they get a score. The times are only suggestions for scheduling purposes and by all means, try to get the children to finish in one day.
That leaves GOT guessing how much actual time students might need and how to schedule the test. His administration wants the test to be given by the classroom teacher during the normal class period, but how does he anticipate who will run over especially the 9th grade students new to the building with whom we have no experience?
As GOT’s parents would say: give it the old college try. Fingers crossed it won’t be a disaster. But do you get the feeling that GOT has that the Florida Department of Education has no idea of what they want and that we’re rushing into something that no one understands and no one can anticipate how it will turn out?
GOT’s Uncle Mac had a saying, “Let’s do something even if it’s wrong.” That seems to be Florida’s approach to testing this year.