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What An End To Standardized School Testing Could Mean For Florida Students And Educators

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida will become the first state to fully implement progress monitoring in place of end-of-year standardized testing.

Gov. DeSantis says lawmakers will consider a proposal during the next legislative session to end standardized testing in Florida's public schools. What that will look like remains to be seen.

The statewide exams, known as the Florida Standards Assessments are given annually to students in third through 10th grades to assess students' gains in English, math and other subjects.

The tests are often referred to as “high-stakes exams” because passing reading scores are needed to move from third to fourth grade and in 10th grade to graduate.

DeSantis said he wants to eliminate the exams and move to a different way of evaluating students.

WUSF's Cathy Carter spoke with Vonzell Agosto, a University of South Florida professor who focuses on education policy, about what could replace the FSA and what it would mean for students and teachers.

Dr. Agosto, the State Department of Education said the proposed new system will be dubbed F.A.S.T, Florida’s Assessment of Student Thinking. How is F.A.S.T different?

It's being described as a progress monitoring approach so that assessment occurs throughout the year. The idea here is that educators have access to the data from that assessment more readily, and they can implement interventions to respond to student’s needs.

With the FSA, if students didn't score high enough in certain subjects there were some penalties like being held back and there were graduation requirements too. Has there been any information yet on whether any of this will be included in the new assessments?

Well, supposedly, this new system of progress monitoring will not be based on the scores or not just the scores, it will provide information about student's growth. So, what they were doing at the beginning of the year, what they were doing midpoint and what they were doing at the end of the year. So, the growth model is different than just having one score at the end of the year. So, we do not yet know about what level of growth is expected. We do not yet know what grade levels will be tested, or if they all will be tested. We don't know if students will be tested or assessed at the same time across the entire state.

But so far reaction to the news of perhaps replacing the FSA has been generally positive--Florida’s teachers union says it's a good idea. But others say this optimism should be tempered because Florida has attempted to tweak high stakes testing before.

Yes, so we've had various iterations of high stakes testing here in Florida. And this supposedly is going to be something rather different than the high stakes testing. It's not a completely new model. It is a model that has been used in a few other states. But what this does is it gives data to teachers more readily. One of the big concerns, or a few of the big concerns that might temper people's celebration is that we don't have the details around things like bias in the assessment practices. We don't know what assessment is being used. We don't know who is creating the assessments. We don't know if students will be able to be assessed in their primary language or will it be English only? We do not know if there will be alternate assessments or access points entry points for students with disabilities. We do not know if we will be able to compare in any way how students in Florida are doing with regard to learning or the areas in which they're being assessed-- how they will compare to students in other states. So those are still some of the big questions that are out there.

Well, that being said, Is It a good Idea policy wise to end this kind of high stakes testing? The FSA was used to calculate school grades, and if a school district did poorly, it could result in penalties regarding funding. And teachers, parents, students, they all say these kinds of tests are just producing anxiety.

It's the high stakes that brings up the anxiety, not the testing itself. So, what people do with those tests, is what brings up anxiety so you could actually cut down on some of the penalties associated with it, so that would be one thing. Another thing to think about is that one assessment, one test score does not give someone a full picture of what students are able to do. And so multiple forms of assessment and multiple forms of having students express or demonstrate their learning is really the way to go to coincide more with good teaching.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.