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Corcoran: Decisions On Use Of State Exams Will Be 'Fair And Just'

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A school zone in Tallahassee

Students will take the state’s standardized tests this year, but what education leaders do with the results is still up in the air. This school year has seen fewer students taking classes in person and policymakers are discussing how to address testing, and the results, this year.

Federal law requires students to be tested yearly and schools to be held accountable for that performance. It’s up to states to figure out the rest. In Florida, those test results determine teacher pay and retention, school and district grades, and funding. The pandemic forced students out of school early, and the state waived its accountability rules, giving schools, districts, and teachers a break. This school year has been full of interruptions, and they’ve touched state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s family, as he noted recently in a Facebook Live.

“As a father of five children, we’re pretty close to 100 days with our family, of quarantining—that’s your senior, junior, middle schooler, your elementary school child out—now, they’re still getting an education the best we possibly can but…all of that is something we’re very cognizant of," he said.

Many students returned to classrooms in the fall, but some are learning remotely, and teachers are trying to teach classes online and in-person simultaneously. Precious Symonette, a former Miami-Dade teacher of the year, says disruptions have taken a toll.

“Many teachers are really stressed. We’re teaching through a pandemic, excessive testing, teaching virtually, having enough resources to reach all our students, and having enough resources," she said.

Many teachers have left the profession either through retirements or fear of contracting COVID-19 in the classrooms.

In February, Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston announced a bill that would effectively suspend the state’s accountability structure for another school year. That would free schools of their grades and all the consequences that come with those. It would also prevent teachers from having their pay and even their jobs tied to student performance at a time when everything is uncertain. But Thurston stopped short of asking for tests to be suspended, saying he believes testing is still important.

"Testing data… shouldn’t be used for decisions on student retention or graduation, teacher effectiveness or school grades. Instead…assessments should be used to inform instruction, identify student needs and support.”

Corcoran says Thurston’s proposal is bipartisan and agrees that the state needs the test results to figure out its next steps. There are concerns that many students still learning remotely may not show up for mandatory in-person testing -- and the state doesn’t have a remote testing option. In order for tests to count, 95% of students at a school must be tested. And if the state department of education says tests WON’T count-- there’s concern students may not take them seriously, skewing results. Corcoran says in-person testing can be done safely.

“Have the 6-foot of distancing and the masks and the sanitizer. Hopefully, we’ll get that data and it will speak for itself…and that’s what I’m saying. At that point, we’ll engage in a very compassionate and graceful way.”

In response to safety concerns and the remote learning issue, the state has granted districts more time to complete exams.

The Biden administration last month also noted students would still have to take standardized exams, but it gave states leeway in how the tests are administered and used. Corcoran says, the Florida Department of Education is aware of the problems schools have encountered this year and has been in talks with teachers and their unions, as well as school districts. Decisions, he says are to be determined.

“Let's see where we’re at. And we’ll make decisions based on that that are fair and just.”

School districts, meanwhile, have told their employees to simply do their best as education officials continue working to find a balance.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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