CLEARWATER — The stage is set for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to be ushered out of local schools as early as 2015, but lobbying groups across the state say schools still need more time.
About 140 Florida school board members flocked to Tallahassee last week for their annual meeting, which coincided with Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s announcement that a developer for the new test has been chosen and new English language arts and mathematics assessments will be administered by spring 2015.
Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego, and others from the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards, spent the week lobbying legislators to hold off. In a letter to school employees, Grego said he asked for “a transition period of at least one year that would result in an accountability system that is fair and equitable for students and teachers.”
While legislators were receptive to granting an additional year, the timeline has not been changed officially, Pinellas school board Chairwoman Carol Cook said.
“Our biggest concern, and the piece that we’re trying to get people to understand, is that we’re not wanting to do away with accountability, we’re not wanting to ignore testing, we’re not wanting to circumvent that system,” Cook said. “We just want to ensure that when it’s in place, when it’s up and running, it’s done properly, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
Hillsborough County School Board member Candy Olson agrees that a longer transition period would be beneficial to teachers and students.
“I think this is going to be rushed,” she said. “We all know that and that is a problem. I would think it would be in the state’s interest to do this.”
The American Institutes for Research, or AIR, will craft the replacement for the FCAT with new Florida standards built upon the Common Core State Standards. The new AIR test will be administered for the first time next spring, while students in grades 5 and 8 will continue to take the science portion of the FCAT.
Little is known about what the new test will look like, as details of how the state will move forward with AIR are “still being finalized,” Larry McQuillan, AIR director of public affairs, said in an email.
Florida’s sample questions won’t be released until later this spring, and practice tests will be given during the summer. The testing process is very similar to the AIR tests given to students in Utah. The company has also worked with Delaware, Hawaii, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon and South Carolina, McQuillan said.
The Utah test designed by the AIR is taken completely on computers and is a “Computer Adaptive Assessment System,” so if a student gets a question wrong, the next question will be easier. If a student answers correctly, the following question is harder. The test also will include more writing, fewer multiple choice questions and could require students to make graphs and “design experiments” through the computer program, according to documents from the Utah State Office of Education.
Florida can’t use the same test as Utah because the “Florida Standards” are slightly different than the Common Core standards. In February, public hearings about Common Core by the state education department resulted in nearly 100 changes, such as including cursive writing in school lessons. Gov. Rick Scott also said the replacement test could not result in a significant cost change or testing time, and that it must produce results promptly.
The timeline also questions how the scores will be used, including how the state will accurately and fairly assess student performance, evaluate teachers, implement pay-for-performance and assign school grades, Grego wrote.
Pinellas schools are on track with similar-sized districts in Florida, but that progress was helped with additional referendum dollars for technology purchases provided by Pinellas taxpayers, Cook said. For the testing to work, every school in the state must ensure the online computer systems won’t crash, as has happened in the past.
“We also need to make sure the test is aligned with curriculum, and the teachers have to be trained so they know how to administer and implement the test, and it would be very nice and beneficial if we were given a year to get the implementation sorted out,” Pinellas school board member Robin Wikle said.
State negotiators unanimously chose AIR from candidates that included ACT, CTB McGraw/Hill, McCann Associates and Pearson, which has a state contract to administer the FCAT, a welcomed sign, Cook said.
“There have been major testing problems in the past and we don’t want them repeated,” Cook said.
Hillsborough’s Olson said whether the timeline is extended or not, the school district will need a strong plan for communicating the testing changes to parents.
“There are going to be questions about it,” she said.
Tribune reporter Erin Kourkounis contributed to this report.