Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on Wednesday called for the elimination of at least one statewide test, as a key Senate education committee began hammering out legislation meant to curb the number of exams given to students in Florida’s public schools.
In a report delivered to Gov. Rick Scott, Stewart recommended that the state get rid of a language-arts test students take in 11th grade. An exam in the 10th grade is used to determine whether students have met the state’s graduation requirement in language arts, and many educators say the later test is unnecessary.
Stewart recommended that Scott issue an executive order to suspend the test in the current school year, with lawmakers later approving legislation to permanently scrap the assessment.
The report also recommended making optional a college readiness test that some students are required to take and eliminating final exams in courses that have state-mandated tests at the end of the year. Stewart also urged local school districts to do what they can to lower the amount of time students spend on tests.
“I am recommending that we eliminate as much testing as we can,” Stewart told reporters after brief remarks before the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee.
Scott has pushed for reining in the number of tests and asked Stewart for the review.
“It’s important to measure students’ progress and achievements, but we must not lose sight of our goal to provide every student with the very best education,” Scott said in a statement accompanying the report. “As I have traveled the state, I have heard from parents and teachers that there are too many tests and I agree.”
Stewart’s report also called for local districts not to “test students for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers” — just four years after the Legislature passed a controversial law more closing tying teacher pay to student performance on standardized tests.
“Students already take tests to determine whether they know their subject matter and districts should use information from these tests to help gauge teacher performance,” the report says.
But Senate Education Pre-K-12 Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz, would not commit Wednesday to getting rid of the 11th grade test in language arts.
“It’s one of the items on the table,” Legg said. “We are reviewing that. … It’s one of those options that we are seriously looking at.”
People who addressed the committee Wednesday largely agreed with Stewart’s recommendation on the 11th grade test, even as they pressed for more steps to cut back on exams.
“But trust me, there are opportunities to look at the portfolio of assessments in the state of Florida and identify other areas and examples of duplication that has put us in this position of over-testing,” said Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, questioned why students who do well on tests in upper-level courses then have to sit for state exams that are expected to be less rigorous.
“These students who have already taken and passed Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests are bored out of their gourds when we then ask them to take another test on the same material,” said Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County schools superintendent.
Education groups largely agree that the state should hold off on assigning school grades and making decisions about whether students should be promoted from the third grade or allowed to graduate based on new tests the state is introducing this year. A similar test has caused a backlash in Utah, though Legg said he still has confidence in the exam.
Lawmakers have already ensured that schools won’t face consequences from this year’s results under the state accountability system. But supporters of pushing back some of the other ways the results are used say that’s not enough.
“The letter grades are so important in terms of perception of a school,” Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who doubles as chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said after the meeting.
Much of the concern revolves around the fact that the new assessments have not been tested on Florida students. Educators say the FCAT was used for letter grades for schools only after a couple of years.
“We’re taking this exam and coming in and laying it down, saying, ‘We’re going to use it this year,’ ” Montford said.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida