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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 10, 2017

Scott delivered on promise to study standardized tests

After hearing parents and teachers argue that Florida students spend too much time preparing for and taking tests, Gov. Rick Scott vowed to gather more information.

During his 2014 reelection campaign Scott promised to direct his state commissioner of education to investigate every required standardized test.

As Florida students head back to school this month, we decided to check on Scott's progress on our Scott-O-Meter, which tracks dozens of Scott's campaign promises on education and many other issues.

We last rated this promise in 2015, when the Florida Department of Education completed an investigation into testing and the Legislature passed HB 7069, which eliminated the 11th grade English language arts assessment. The issue became a big deal that year after some districts had to shut down testing for days when students had trouble logging on and the test website was subject to a cyber attack.

(When we checked in for this update, a department spokeswoman pointed to those same accomplishments.)

The state awarded a $600,000 contract to Alpine Testing Solutions to conduct a validity study of the Florida Standards Assessment, the test that replaced the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

The review released in September 2015 found that the tests overall did achieve what they intended to do in terms of  measuring student performance on state standards.

However, Alpine also cited some problems.

"The 2014-15 FSA test administration was problematic; issues were encountered on just about every aspect of the computer-based test administrations, from the initial training and preparation to the delivery of the tests themselves," Alpine wrote.

Alpine recommended that tests not be used as the only factor to determine  advancement to the next grade, graduation eligibility or placement into a remedial course.

Alpine also recommended some steps to improve the tests, which were originally written to measure Utah standards rather than Florida standards.

The review didn't silence critics of Florida's tests.

"This should be of grave concern to all of us," Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. "Kids were taught Florida standards by Florida teachers in the state of Florida, but they were assessed with questions that fully matched Utah's standards."

A few weeks after the review by Alpine, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents released a statement that it has lost confidence in the system and recommended the state not use last spring's test results to evaluate students, teachers and schools.

Some lawmakers and education activists have continued efforts to reduce or radically change testing.

In 2017, Scott signed a wide-ranging education measure into law (also labeled HB 7069) that required Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to seek an independent study that would assess whether the SAT and ACT could count in lieu of some statewide assessments. (The results of that study are due to Scott and legislative leaders by Jan. 1, 2018.)

HB 7069 also contained other provisions aimed at making statewide exams less burdensome by shifting the testing window to the end of the year, requiring a faster turnaround for results, eliminating the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam, and requiring English and math assessments in grades 3-6 to be administered using a paper-based format, instead of electronic.

Critics of Florida's tests have continued to call on Scott to do more to reduce tests or their influence.

Bob Schaeffer, who works for the national organization FairTest, said the Scott administration could have reduced tests or rolled back the use of tests for promotion to fourth grade or high school graduation. He also wants Scott to reduce the role of tests in assessing students, educators and schools.

"In fact, he took none of these actions," said Schaeffer, a Sanibel Island resident. "Though there was strong support in the Legislature for more significant reductions in testing, Gov. Scott signed a compromise bill that only eliminated one 11th grade exam and did not publicly advocate for deeper assessment reforms."

Some districts, including Miami-Dade County and Polk County, have cut back on their own testing requirements.

In 2016, Carvalho announced that the district would no longer administer mid-year assessments in English language arts and math given to students in grades 3 through 8.

The state has done little to reduce the number of tests or the stakes attached to their results, to the dismay of testing critics.

But our task for the Scott-O-Meter is to evaluate Scott's second-term promise to investigate tests -- not to reduce them. And his administration has delivered on that promise.

We rate this Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Alpine Testing Solutions, Independent Verification of the Psychometric Validity for the Florida Standards Assessment, Aug. 31, 2017

Miami Herald, "Study sparks more debate over Florida tests for students," Sept. 1, 2015

AP, "New study finds Florida's high-stakes school tests valid," Sept. 1, 2015

Tampa Bay Times The Gradebook blog, "Use caution in reading Florida test validity study, author says," Sept. 2, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Superintendents: Tallahassee has broken Florida's school grading system," Sept. 25, 2015

Miami Herald, "Miami-Dade announces less testing, more teaching time," Sept. 7, 2016

ABC Action News, "Polk County Public Schools slash standardized testing," Aug. 2, 2017

Interview, Audrey Walden, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, May 26 and Aug. 8, 2017

Interview, Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, Aug. 7, 2017

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin April 16, 2015

Scott signs testing bill advocates say is a good first step

After calling for an investigation into standardized tests and suspending a new exam by executive order, Gov. Rick Scott quickly signed a bill limiting how many hours students can be evaluated.

The Legislature passed HB 7069 on April 9, 2015, permanently ending the 11th-grade Florida Standards Assessment for language arts that Scott's February executive order put on hold. Results from a Department of Education investigation into testing were released Feb. 18 influenced the bill. Scott signed the bill on April 14.

"I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested," Scott said in a statement. His office did not elaborate on what the next step might be, although Scott did tell reporters he had no plans to issue more executive orders.

The law strikes a requirement for local school districts to create exams in subjects not covered by a state assessment and limits the time students can spend on state-mandated tests to a maximum of 45 hours. Middle- and high-school students who don't do well on state tests will no longer automatically be enrolled in remedial courses.

The new law authorizes an outside review of the Florida Standards Assessment, the test that replaced the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, this year. The law also puts high-stakes decisions based on the new test on hold until the review is completed.

Those kinds of decisions include school grades, whether third-graders will be promoted to fourth grade and teacher evaluations, which now will only have one-third of an instructor's performance tied to test results instead of half.

The law also addresses when the first day of school can be. Schools can now start as early as Aug. 10, although each district may decide its own start date. Old law said schools couldn't open more than 14 days before Labor Day. The holiday is late this year and some administrators had been concerned about scheduling end-of-semester tests before the winter break.

The Foundation for Florida's Future, an education-focused group started by former Gov. Jeb Bush, posted an open letter on its site praising the new law for refining policies and setting the stage for future improvements.

"Florida has a history of moving ahead with sure-footedness and thoughtful adjustments in improving a system that has produced remarkable results for our children. This year is a continuation of that process," executive director Patricia Levesque wrote.

The Florida Education Association was more pointed in its reaction. President Andy Ford said in a letter to Scott that while the group supported the bill, there needed to be many more changes, because they felt the law actually did little to permanently fix systemic problems.

Ford asked Scott to push back the start date of testing, saying it happened too early in the school year. He also asked for tests to be given on paper until an online testing system was proven to be reliable, expedite the results and not penalize students or teachers for flaws in the system, among other concerns.

"We support this legislation a first step, but hope that you will continue the effort to make sure Florida's education accountability is built to serve the learning needs of children and the legitimate needs of the adults that serve them," Ford said.

Scott had ordered an investigation into standardized tests and signed a bill later passed by the Legislature that authorizes a further review of new state exams. There has been some action on this promise, but education advocates say there is more to be done. We continue to rate this promise In The Works.

Our Sources

Florida Department of Education, "Assessment Investigation," Feb. 18, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott's office, "Governor Scott Signs Executive Order To Reduce Testing In Florida," Feb. 24, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott's office, "Gov. Scott Signs Legislation to Reduce Tests," April 14, 2015

Orlando Sentinel, "Gov. Scott signs bill to scale back testing in Florida public schools," April 14, 2015

Foundation for Florida's Future, "What does the 'Fewer, Better Tests' bill do for Florida?," April 14, 2015

Florida Education Association, Letter to Rick Scott (page 1, page 2), April 14, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Rick Scott signs bill that scales back testing," April 14, 2015

News Service of Florida via Naples Herald, "Gov. Rick Scott Signs Historic Bill to Scale Back Standardized Testing in Florida," April 15, 2015

Associated Press via Education Week, "Florida governor signs bill to limit standardized tests," April 15, 2015

Florida House of Representatives, CS/HB 7069, accessed April 15, 2015

Interview with Jeri Bustamante, Rick Scott spokeswoman, April 15, 2015

Interview with Mark Pudlow, Florida Education Association spokesman, April 15, 2015

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin February 24, 2015

Scott suspends one test as Department of Education releases report for Legislature

With Florida's state legislative session quickly approaching, the Florida Department of Education released its report investigating the state's standardized testing -- and Gov. Rick Scott didn't waste time acting on it.

The Feb. 18 report made several suggestions for the state to change testing practices, the most immediate of which was recommending Florida stop giving an 11th-grade Florida Standards Assessment for language arts. The test was to be given to students for the first time in March, but because the Legislature would likely not be able to act so quickly -- the session starts March 3 -- Stewart asked Scott for an executive order suspending the test until the Legislature could address the change. Scott issued that order on Feb. 24.

The report also suggested ending a requirement for a state college-readiness test, called the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test, given to high school juniors. The department said the test should be optional, because the state already has rigorous enough standards to measure readiness.

Stewart also recommended lawmakers pass legislation turning over progress monitoring from the state to school districts. The report described the state's requirements as "overly prescriptive" and better suited to the local level.

The Legislature should also consider getting rid of local final exams in subjects where there is a statewide end-of-course test. The investigation noted there are statewide exams in Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, U.S. History, Biology 1 and Civics classes.

Stewart made further suggestions to school districts, including limiting interim assessments -- tests given during the school year to measure progress -- to once per class, per year. These tests can be either school-wide or district-wide.

Districts also were asked not to test students only to evaluate teacher performance. Current assessments already provide benchmarks for this, the report said, so no additional tests should be given for that purpose.

Finally, the districts should regularly update teachers, parents and students about the results of tests, in order to figure out how best to help students learn. This information can help identify changes that should be made in lessons or whether a student needs extra attention.

The Legislature will have to decide if it wants to move on the statewide suggestions. It's up to school districts to decide if they want to act on Stewart's recommendations about district assessments, but the Department of Education said some administrators are already considering them. While we wait for lawmakers, we will continue to rate this promise In The Works.

Our Sources

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin February 16, 2015

State investigates tests ahead of Florida Standards Assessment

After facing criticism about his education policies during his first stint in office, Gov. Rick Scott pledged to make schooling a priority for a second term. PolitiFact Florida is still grading whether he's going to reach his goals.

One promise was to address mounting concerns about Florida's contentious standardized tests. Scott said he wanted the Department of Education to investigate every test across the state's school districts, including when students take their tests and why, how long the test takes and what happens to children as a result of test scores.

"We have too much testing. We need to spend more time on learning," Scott said at an education conference hosted by former Gov. Jeb Bush on Feb. 10, 2015. "We need this year to work with the legislature to get something done."

The backdrop here is that testing is changing as the state adopts the so-called Florida Standards. The Florida Standards closely mirror Common Core practices, albeit slightly tweaked and with a different name.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced on Dec. 22 the formation of the Keep Florida Learning Committee, a group that will review how to implement the Florida Standards and the new Florida Standards Assessment test, which is replacing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. It will include 11 educators, legislators and citizens to through an application process, with individuals to be named sometime in February.

Standardized test scores are used in part to assign schools letter grades to measure effectiveness, a practice that started under then-Gov. Bush's "A-Plus" education initiative. Schools are then penalized or rewarded according to those grades. Failing grades can mean holding students back, closing schools and firing teachers.

Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters told PolitiFact Florida on Feb. 12 that the state had also gathered information from districts on federal, state and local assessments and how they are used, and that agency staff were analyzing the data to have a report ready at the start of the next legislative session, which begins March 3. In the meantime, Stewart has repeated that testing is mandatory for Florida students.

Anti-testing groups, meanwhile, question if Scott actually wants to fix the problem, or is just throwing a bone to bipartisan opposition against standardized tests.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the anti-testing group FairTest, said anyone can order an investigation, but Tallahassee seems to be at a loss for what to do about an overabundance of tests.

"So far there have been specific but modest proposals from legislative leadership, but nothing from the governor or the Department of Education … so reformers are watching and waiting," Schaeffer said. "Quite frankly, there has not been much discussion about what Rick Scott is doing and how much influence he has on the Legislature."

One question that remains is how much power Scott or the Department of Education would have on their own to alter testing guidelines. In 2014, after widespread protests from parents and teachers, Stewart suspended the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, or FAIR test, in kindergarten through second grade. That test was only to monitor student progress, however, and didn't factor into school grading or funding.

On Jan. 28, 2015, Scott met with a group of Florida school superintendents who said they were concerned that new tests were being implemented too quickly. They asked him to freeze school grades through 2015-16 to provide a baseline for the new test and eliminate some requirements, including new end-of-course exams for high schoolers. The group said it is worried a rush to start using the new test could cause the school accountability system to "implode."

Ceresta Smith, a teacher in Miami-Dade County and administrator for the anti-testing group United Opt Out, said she did not have high hopes for the current process. If officials were serious about reform they would immediately move to get rid of the current reliance on standardized testing, which she said has only provided marginal improvements in Florida schools.

"Instead they would fully fund public education, use only grade-span testing via random sampling, improve the requirements for acquiring teacher certification, provide incentives to desegregate schools and work hard to end student and teacher poverty," she said.

Even Bush, who championed more testing as governor, said during a Feb. 10 education summit at Florida State University that he supported reform efforts, although assessments were still needed.

"If you don't measure, you don't really care," Bush said. "You have to assess where students are. We can have better tests. We can have fewer tests."

Scott said he would direct Stewart to investigate the state's standardized tests. The review has begun at Scott's behest, with a report due to the Legislature when it convenes for 2015, and a separate committee will discuss the new Florida Standards Assessment test. We rate this promise In The Works.

Our Sources

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida suspends a controversial exam as debate widens over school testing," Sept. 15, 2014

Florida Department of Education, "With Students as Top Priority Florida Chooses Replacement for FCAT," March 17, 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida says it will review standardized testing in schools," Dec. 22, 2014

Florida Department of Education, "Commissioner Pam Stewart Announces Two Key Education Initiatives," Dec. 22, 2014

Palm Beach Post, "Florida education officials announce plans to review testing," Dec. 22, 2014

Miami Herald, "New Florida committee will tackle school testing controversies," Dec. 24, 2015

Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, "Rick Scott hears superintendents' testing concerns," Jan. 28, 2015

Florida Today, "Florida: No option to opt out of state exams," Jan. 28, 2015

Pensacola News Journal, "Local superintendents lobby for new state test rules with Gov. Scott," Feb. 3, 2015

Orlando Sentinel, "Gov. Rick Scott: 'We have too much testing'," Feb. 10, 2015

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "Education could define Jeb Bush run," Feb. 10, 2015

Florida Department of Education, "Keep Florida Learning Committee FAQ," accessed Feb. 12, 2015

Interview with Cheryl Etters, Department of Education press secretary, Feb. 12, 2015

Interview with Meghan Collins, Department of Education communications director, Feb. 12, 2015

Interview with Jeri Bustamante, Gov. Rick Scott spokeswoman, Feb. 13, 2015

Interview with Bob Schaeffer, FairTest public education director, Feb. 13, 2015

Interview with Ceresta Smith, United Opt Out administrator, Feb. 13, 2015

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