High school juniors (and their teachers) breathed a collective sigh of relief this week when Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order to suspend the 11th-grade Florida Standards Assessment for English language arts. At least for now, it’s one less test to take in a seemingly endless barrage of high-stakes standardized assessments that have come to dominate Florida classrooms. The suspension was put into effect “to give the legislature sufficient time during this legislative session to consider repeal of the requirement.”
While Gov. Scott’s action eliminates one test that many considered both onerous and duplicative, there still needs to be a far more comprehensive evaluation of school testing in Florida. Teacher’s union officials have called for a major revamp of the entire system, which has struggled to implement the new Florida Standards, based on the national Common Core principles. Specifically, teacher’s groups want both less testing and a year-long moratorium on high-stakes evaluations attached to the testing. That idea is not likely to fly when the state legislature is gaveled into session next week.
At issue is a general disagreement over whether Florida’s testing regime has brought accountability and improved learning, or if the state is just testing for the sake of testing. Varying studies have taken opposing points of view on that question. One thing, however, is clear. Our children are part of a system that thrives on testing. Student test scores determine teacher job evaluations, school performance, school financing and many other factors. Not only is that a lot of pressure to put on the children, but that is an overwhelming amount of pressure to put on teachers.
This issue used to have a very clear political dividing line. Democrats supported the teacher’s union, which meant less testing and fewer things riding on the testing results. Republicans, led on this issue by former Gov. Jeb Bush, were for more testing and more accountability for both students and teachers. However, the advent of new Florida Standards, confusing for teachers and parents, and mistrusted by anti-big-government Republicans, has created an opening to re-evaluate Florida’s testing culture. Some Republican lawmakers are even promoting a measure to abandon the Florida Standards and give parents an option to let their children skip state testing. Will that happen? Probably not. However, somewhere between the ridiculous overtesting of today and non-accountability of 20 years ago lies a more rational middle ground.
Standardized tests should be a baseline, not something to be feared. Do students understand the material they should understand by a certain grade level? Great! If not, let’s go back to the drawing board and teach them what they need to learn and figure out why they didn’t perform as expected. Meanwhile, students and learning should really be the focus of every test given. If a test can help with a teacher evaluation, that’s fine, but don’t test students for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers.