Testing Alternative Bill Greenlit In Senate, But Faces Obstacles In House

Jan 27, 2016

Credit Martha T. / flickr.com

Florida parents, students, teachers, administrators and most importantly lawmakers—appear fed up with the Florida Standards Assessment. The exam has mostly replaced the FCAT as the state’s public school test. But  a proposal to give districts an option of whether to administer the FSA or an alternative, is catching heat from anti-testing organizations.

The bill doesn’t repeal the Florida Standards Assessment. Nor does it reverse the state’s new academic standards. And that’s something Judy Stevens, of St. Johns County.

“I disagree with SB 1360 and do not support it. It does nothing to reduce the testing which we’re all concerned about," she told a Senate education panel.

Anti-testing and common core activists have pushed the state for years to refute the nationally normed Common Core standards, or as they’re called in Florida—the Florida Standards. They’ve won some battles—like getting the state to pull out of a common core testing consortium, and pressing the state to review the standards—leading to some tweaking, and a name change, as Meredith Mears with Florida Parents Rise points out:

“Many parents, including myself, have had the standards and assessment conversation with you and the state board of education for many years now. Sometimes you listened—a little. Most other times you were dismissive.  Senate Bill 1360 is not any different. I oppose this bill for the following reason: the high stakes assessment are still attached," she said.

But for the most part, the current system is firmly in place. Lawmakers are just trying to figure out how to smooth out the rough parts—of which there are many. Last year's first run of Florida Standards Assessment hit technical glitches. And a review of the exam later found parts of it didn’t align with the state’s own standards. Some districts threatened to pull out of the state’s testing and school grading scheme completely. And an idea emerged: use other, nationally-known tests as alternatives.

“School districts could choose to remain with the FSA….or, districts could choose to use ACT-Aspire as a substitute for the FSA," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. He's carrying the bill which the ACT organization helped craft.  Under the measure, the FSA wouldn’t be replaced, but districts would have the option of choosing an alternative. High schoolers would also be able to use alternative assessments to meet state graduation requirements.  

“Students who take AP courses, and pass AP exams don’t have to take another state test to demonstrate proficiency in English, Language Arts, Biology and U.S. History. The bill further allows a CLEP option: pass the test, get the credit," Gaetz said.

Gaetz argues the SAT and ACT have been around forever, they’ve got a long track record, and are pretty much mandatory for college admissions. The inspiration for the bill came from Seminole County Schools, which first raised. Indian River School Board member Shawn Frost says his district is fully on board.

“The ACT/SAT are market driven solutions, they’re highest quality, and offer meaningful accountability.”  

And most people know what they are. The Florida Citizens Alliance opposes common core. The organization's Keith Flaugh says the bill is a false choice, and doesn’t allow anyone to completely opt-out of the assessment system completely.

“It still leaves the FSA in play, which is a disaster on every front.” Flaugh says tests prior to 2009 may be good alternatives, but not the newer versions of the exams, which are aligned to common core. But Gaetz is holding firm.

“The two criticisms leveled against the bill are correct. This bill doesn’t repeal the FSA. And so, if you will accept nothing other than a repeal of the FSA, this is not a bill for you.” 

The Senate PreK-12 education committee unanimously passed the bill. But there’s no companion measure in the Senate. And normally in order for bills to become laws, there must be a counterpart in the other chamber.