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Study: Florida Standards Assessment 'Valid' But Problems Remain

A review of Florida’s new statewide exam has found the test is valid to use in school grades and teacher evaluations. But the news isn’t sitting well with local school districts, who remain skeptical of the Florida Standards Assessment.

The FSA got off to a rocky start due to tech glitches that left up to 5 percent of students with results the testing review describes as “suspect”. The study also suggests the state not use the results as the only determinant of grade promotion and retention. But if it’s not good for students, says Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons, then it shouldn’t be good for teachers.

“Let’s not affect our teacher evaluations in a negative way because of an assessment we know was given in a way that was not reliable," he said.

Pons is encouraging other school districts to not use the so-called VAM scores generated by student performance results, as part of a teacher's evaluation, even though state law requires a third of the evaluation be based on student learning gains.

The study results don’t mean the debate over testing is over. Some districts, like Leon and Seminole County, want to scrap the exam in favor of a national measure like the SAT. And Senate education chief John Legg, says lawmakers will keep probing the issue.

The report is also critical of parts of the test that don’t or partially match state learning standards. Students are required to perform well on the third and tenth grade English exam in order to be promoted and graduate. But more than a third of the questions were irrelevant. Leon County principal Shelley Bell wonders whether some students have been hurt by that: 

“If the state would pull out the partial standard match and the non-standard match out of the assessment, say these are not valid questions—and just graded the kids on the standards that matched, I’d be really curious to know because I bet the passing rate for  kids would go up significantly," she said.

Retakes on the 10th grade English Language Arts exam are slated for October. The department hasn’t said whether the problematic test questions will be removed before then. Students are able to take the SAT or ACT to fulfill the graduation requirement, but their scores must be acceptable to the state.