FLORIDA STANDARDS ASSESSMENTS EXPERIENCE SOME TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

And you thought the Obamacare website rollout had problems.

Computer malfunctions, brand-new curriculum standards and unparalleled stress have characterized the debut of the new Florida Standards Assessments. But could Florida’s testing debacle be alleviated by the stroke of the governor’s pen?

Last week, 36 of Florida’s 67 counties — more than half — experienced technical difficulties with the writing portion of the new Florida Standards Assessment, which was administered to eighth, ninth and 10th graders across the state. Log-on attempts failed, computers crashed and unexplained error messages appeared on screens, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

And it’s only going to get worse in April, when kids in grades 5 through 10 take FSA language arts and math exams online.

“I can’t believe this happened on the first day,” says Becki Couch, a current Duval County School Board member and the body’s former chairwoman. “We weren’t even testing all students. We can all say we’re ready, but you really don’t know until you have everyone testing at the same time.”

Now we know.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Tenth-graders will have to pass the writing component in order to graduate.

It seems that the state’s school personnel saw this coming. More than a dozen superintendents publicly expressed reticence about administering the FSA, and not only because of the failures in the online system.

Superintendents were concerned because they didn’t think teachers had time to fully teach the new, Common Core-based Florida Standards to their students. Florida schools used FCAT 2.0 from 2011 through 2014 and, prior to that, FCAT. The FSA’s debut was last Monday, March 9.

Advocates have asked lawmakers to “hold children harmless” from the results of this yet-unproven instrument, particularly in light of its calamitous debut.

Parent-advocate and 50th No More founder Colleen Wood said in a statement that the Duval County School Board should fight to extend the same benefit of the doubt to our children that they extended to Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Board members said they didn’t have enough meaningful data to upon which to gauge Vitti’s performance, but voted to extend his contract anyway.

“Did I miss those letters?” Wood asked, referring to the outpouring of community support for the superintendent, but not for students. “Did I miss where the head of the Chamber, Civic Council, and [the Jacksonville Public Education Fund] asked the state of Florida to offer the same reasonable courtesy to our children and hold them harmless from the FSA tests this year?”

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is downplaying the technical difficulties, emphasizing that the writing-test period will go on for two weeks and that there are make-up days built into the schedule.

The anti-Common Core crowd isn’t buying it. Wood insists that the FDOE had to know how many students would be testing last Monday. She told First Coast News that with such high stakes surrounding the FSA, the FDOE should be “held accountable.”

In the wake of Monday’s enormous online-test debacle, Gov. Rick Scott should step in where the legislature and the FDOE have not, as of yet.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, has the right idea. He proposes a three-year “hold-harmless” policy in SB 616. But that could take weeks to hash out in the State Senate. Meanwhile, our students are suffering.

The governor has the power to mitigate the damage now being wreaked by overzealous politicians. Declare that the 2015 FSA is a field test only, and stop subjecting most of our 3 million students to the extreme stress being inflicted by adults who clearly don’t know what they’re doing.

A version of this column appeared on 
Context Florida.

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