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Dropping FSA ‘a step in the right direction’

Franklin County school leaders are lending support to the
governor’s proposal announced Tuesday to eliminate the annual spring Florida Standards
Assessment test, and instead rely on less stressful progress monitoring tests administered in the fall, winter and spring.

“I know kids who have test anxiety and when it’s a one-shot
deal it’s very hard on kids,” said Jennifer Leach, the district’s director of curriculum
and instruction.

“None of this has been ironed out yet, it’s still in the developmental
stages,” she said. “I think that’s a step in right direction.”

In his announcement Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said his
administration will present a proposal during the 2022 legislative session to
end the FSA test, which continues a path he set out in an
executive order in Jan. 2019 to eliminate Common Core.

That path has included the
phasing-in of a revised sets of standards for English and Language Arts known
as B.E.S. T (Florida’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking).

This year, the B.E.S.T standards were implemented in
Kindergarten through second grade, and next year they will apply to all grades.

“Next year they will be for Kindergarten through 12th
grade,” Leach said. “Which is why they will have a new test, because they would
have been forced to teach new standards.

“Basically, the FSA is out of
date because they changed the standards,” she said. “The FSA does not test
those standards. He would have to change the test to match the new standards,
so changing the test was a done deal anyway.”

DeSantis said his proposal would lead to assessing students
in the fall, winter and spring, which would reduce the amount of time spent
each year on testing. The state Department of Education said the proposed
system will be dubbed F.A.S.T., Florida’s Assessment of Student Thinking.

“His proposal is instead of doing one big test, it is that we
do progress monitoring three times a year,” said Leach.

She said each district is free to use a different progress monitoring
tool, and in the case of Franklin, students already take the i-Ready exam, for a
shorter duration three times a year. Those results are used by educators to
determine to what extent a student has mastered a subject, and where teachers
should target to plug any holes the student is experiencing.

“The difference is when we do progress monitoring now, we’re
the only ones that get data,” Leach said. “Instead of us keeping it, that would become part of their score.

“The state is going to design their own progress monitoring
program, and the state will have data all along the way,” she said.

Flanked by legislators, education officials, teachers and
parents, DeSantis said during a news conference in Doral that his plan will
call for “short, individualized check-in assessments three times per year. This
will take hours, not days, to be able to do these assessments.

“It also informs teachers in real time during the school
year, so that they can better help students. These progress monitoring tools
will be customizable, it will even be unique to each student. It gives the
ability to have timely data during the school year, so you can make the
necessary corrections,” he said.

Legislation to carry out the proposal has not been filed,
but DeSantis said the current school year will be the last time the FSA tests
will be administered if lawmakers approve the change.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said closing schools
in spring 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and canceling standardized
tests at the time made clear that the FSA was no longer needed.

“We looked at the progress monitoring data, because that’s
what we still had. And what we noticed was … the FSA is kind of antiquated.
With algorithms and where we are with computer technology, we can take that
progress monitoring data and have the exact same accountability system,” he

Corcoran compared the current standardized testing system to
an “autopsy,” administered at the end of the school year with data coming back
that can be used in the next year. The proposal, Corcoran said, would be an
ongoing “diagnostic system.”

The move would make Florida the first state in the nation to
“switch from end of the year assessments to state standards-aligned progress
monitoring,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

It also would mark a change from the approach that many
Florida Republican leaders have taken during the past two decades. Former Gov.
Jeb Bush spearheaded that approach, arguing that statewide standardized testing
and accountability were needed to improve the education system.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for
Florida’s Future, which Bush founded, released a statement Tuesday that pointed
to a need for “high expectations for students, strong summative
assessments that are aligned to these expectations, school grading that holds
the education system accountable for helping every child make progress and
achieve, transparent and clear information for parents on their child’s progress
and performance, and strong interventions and supports for students and schools
that need it.”

Levesque expressed support for part of the DeSantis proposal
to move “statewide assessments to an online and adaptive testing
approach,” which she said “could provide teachers more
flexibility to teach and students more time to learn, shorten testing time,
allow tests to identify student performance more quickly, and return results
back to parents and teachers more expediently.”

But she said other parts of the proposal raise questions,
such as whether changes could create “high stakes stressors on students
three times a year” and whether the spring progress-monitoring test would
“simply be a replacement for the end of year test and result in teachers
having less time to cover the full year of content.”

An emphasis on standardized testing has long drawn criticism
from the Florida Education Association teachers union and many Democrats.

The union, which has locked horns with DeSantis on other
education issues, voiced support for the proposal Tuesday. In a statement, it
said eliminating statewide standardized testing would represent “a big win for
our students and public schools.”

“A student’s future shouldn’t hang on one high-stakes, make-or-break
test, and one test shouldn’t dominate weeks that could otherwise be used for
meaningful instruction,” union President Andrew Spar said. “We welcome today’s
announcement as a sign that Florida is moving closer to a system that focuses
on students’ growth instead of on high-stakes standardized tests.”

Ryan Dailey of the News Service of Florida contributed to this article.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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