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Florida Educators Call For Changes To Accountability System

Sen. Bill Montford speaks at an event wearing a blue suit, yellow tie and holding a microphone
via Sen. Bill Montford

This spring’s Florida Standards Assessment was plagued by technical glitches and some questions didn’t align with state standards. Florida’s accountability system uses the test results to determine school grades, teacher pay and student promotions but educators say it’s time to re-evaluate.

The test was rife with problems even before it was administered. Teachers said they weren’t ready, and worried students weren’t comfortable with the new technology, nor the new learning standards. Technical glitches meant thousands of students struggled to complete their exams.

A recent review of the Florida Standards Assessment found it valid, but questions remain on how the result will impact Florida schools. But the Association of Superintendents, Florida PTA and Florida School Board Association agree: they have no confidence in school accountability.

Students will not be penalized for poor scores this year. But the same scores will be used to determine school grades. For Florida School Board’s Andrea Messina, this doesn’t add up.

“Well what makes sense to parents and what makes sense to the community at large and to educators, is if the test is not valid for individual students, how then can it be applied in the aggregate," she said.

Individual superintendents have publicly criticized the test, and its role in the accountability system.  Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons says teachers shouldn’t be penalized for poor scores either.

“We’re not gonna use any of these test scores in order to give any teacher a punitive or negative evaluation, based on data that’s not correct in a testing environment where students didn’t have the opportunity to show what they had actually learned during the year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the superintendents' association at large wants to forego issuing school grades this year. Superintendent Association Director and State Senator Bill Montford says poor school grades for incomplete student scores will further erode confidence in the system.        

“If a school receives a grade of an F whether or not there’s a monetary penalty to that or not, there’s still a penalty because that has far-reaching implications not only for the students and for the teachers but the community as well,” he said.

But Senate Education Chief John Legg says that some schools should take a good look at test results.

“We have some counties very close to Tallahassee, not Leon County but right next to Leon County, where almost 40 percent of their students are scoring in the bottom quartile, the bottom 25 percent of our entire state. Now we could simply ignore that and say hey this was just a test, let’s not look at that, but I think that school system needs a good hard look," he said.

But for school board’s association head Andrea Messina, the issue isn’t about scores or punishment, it’s an issue of credibility. And she says she’s not alone.

“So it’s not just the education community that recognizes that problem and that’s why we have such great concern about the credibility of the entire system, because everyone says slow down a minute, things just don’t seem right,” she said.

The superintendents' association is asking for new legislation to take a step back and re-evaluate. The proposed changes would mean insulating schools from poor scores, and revamping the accountability system. No bill has been filed yet, but the plans could find a supporter in Billl Montford.

“Let’s take a look at the recommendations that have been made, how can we implement those and get them in place by the 2016 administration of the FSA. But we can’t be punitive, we’ve got to do it right. Our students deserve that, our teachers deserve that, our communities deserve that and it’s too important for us to not have confidence in the accountability system," he said.

Educators agree that the accountability system needs to be addressed. But with no such bills yet filed for the upcoming session, they’ll have to wait and see what lawmakers have in mind.