TAMPA – Some local schools officials say new tests introduced Monday to replace the state’s FCAT fall short in a basic goal behind such high-stakes exams: You can’t use them to compare the performance of Florida’s students against students from other states.
When 45 states including Florida adopted the Common Core State Standards – a more rigorous set of academic goals for students – comparisons across states was a major draw. But the new tests to measure how Florida students meet these new standards won’t allow that, some local school superintendents say.
“It looks like we are developing our own assessment and I kind of railed against that before,” Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said. “We don’t want to be in the same position as before with a home-grown assessment. You are using nationally normed standards. Why wouldn’t you use a nationally normed assessment? I don’t get it.”
The unnamed tests will be administered for the first time next spring. Students in grades five and eight will continue to take the science portion of the FCAT.
“Building on the history of improving student achievement, we are very ready to move forward,” Stewart said Monday, during a conference call with reporters.
The state education department received five proposals from testing groups in December. They were reviewed by an evaluation team and narrowed down to three. A negotiation team unanimously recommended AIR to Stewart.
The other four are ACT, CTB McGraw/Hill, McCann Associates and Pearson, which currently holds a contract with the state to administer the FCAT.
AIR’s contract with the education department is for $220 million over six years, and total per-student testing costs will decrease from $36.17 to $34.23.
The nonprofit, based in Washington, D.C., will work with the Data Recognition Corp. to develop test content and score student responses.
Stewart said she did not know how many states could be effectively compared to Florida under the new assessments.
“While I do believe comparability to other states is one of the reasons states were signing on to the Common Core State Standards, the bigger reason was these are more rigorous standards that would help our students be better prepared for college and career,” she said.
Browning said he did not have time on Monday to review all the materials the education department had sent to the district, but that he would prefer tests other states also are using so Florida students can be compared more easily to those elsewhere.
Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said such cross-state comparisons were a major appeal of the Common Core Standards. The tests being designed for Florida will not do that, Elia said.
“The biggest issue for us is we’re going to be comparing Florida to Florida,” Elia said. “I hope that this becomes part of an evolution to an appropriate assessment that matches fully the standards. This is kind of an attempt to come up with an assessment that will allow us to basically stay on the same track we’ve been on.”
The local superintendents also have an issue with field-testing of the AIR assessments that is now under way in Utah — a state with a student population less diverse than Florida’s. Just over half of Florida’s under-18 population is white compared with three-fourths in Utah, according to 2011 figures compiled y the non-profit Kids Count.
This is a special concern in testing English language learners, Browning said.
It’s been a long road for the education department in selecting a set of tests to be aligned to the new standards. Last year, on the heels of a three-day education accountability summit in August, Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order calling for the state to drop out as the state serving as fiscal agent for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC is a national consortium that is creating assessments to test students on the new standards.
Opposition of the Common Core had been mounting; many critics believe they will take local control away from school districts or add to students’ testing load.
The education department hosted public hearings on the Common Core, made nearly 100 tweaks and additions and renamed them the Florida Standards in February.
Scott also set out eight goals for the new tests. They include prompt reporting of results, as well as no significant change in cost or testing time for students to take the tests. He also wanted the testing dates to be as close to the end of the school year as possible.
Stewart said all of these goals will be achieved with the AIR tests.
What exactly the new tests will look like is still unknown, but sample questions will be released later this spring, Stewart said. They will be able to take practice tests over the summer.
She said the tests will include more writing and some questions will be more than multiple choice. Some will be given on the computer and some will be given on paper.
“Students will be asked to do more than fill in multiple choice answers,” she said.
Even though Florida is no longer part of PARCC, a sampling of Hillsborough students will field test some questions on PARCC exams beginning next week.
Tribune reporter Ronnie Blair contributed to this report.