Nation’s highest stakes testing set for this spring

Nation’s highest stakes testing set for this spring

(Fla.) Under state law, students in each grade will take for the first time cumulative end-of-year tests in every subject this spring, including electives. And their scores will factor into their teachers’ pay.

Despite growing objections from both parents and educators, state officials said the high-stakes testing is set to move ahead even though the assessment system itself is also in transition.

“State law requires between 40-and 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation be based on student performance depending on how long they have been teaching and data available,” said Cheryl Etters, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education. “These assessments are teacher or district developed and selected assessments could include, for example, project-based assessments, adjudicated performances, industry certification assessments and practical application assignments.”

Florida’s teacher-merit-pay law requires that student-test data be factored into teachers' evaluations, and student performance will effect decisions on tenure and how much a teacher is paid. How the tests are administered will be decided by districts.

Many other states are currently engaged in developing new forms of teacher evaluation – many as a condition of receiving the No Child left Behind Act waiver or grant money from the Race to the Top competition. In exchange they must improve standards, restructure consistently low-performing schools and create new teacher evaluation systems.

In Florida, students will take multiple choice exams, either online or using pencil and paper, for core subjects as well as classes that don’t typically test in the traditional sense. This includes teachers in subjects such as physical education, band and speech or debate classes.

Administrators will have some room to decide which tests they will use, such as allowing performance or project reviews in dance or art classes. However, larger districts may opt for more multiple choice style tests simply to save teaching time.

Among the concerns of educators and parents though, is that these tests will take up too much time, even if they are multiple choice – especially in schools where there aren’t yet enough computers or bandwidth capabilities for all the students to test at the same time. Other common worries include:

  • Multiple choice tests, even single performance reviews, can’t always show everything that a student has learned;
  • Younger students in kindergarten through third grade are too young to take cumulative tests and will only get stressed and frustrated; and
  • Students aren’t gaining anything from the tests and are being used simply to gather data.

In older grades, these tests could count for up to 20 percent of students’ grades, though scores likely won’t count toward those for elementary students.

In addition to implementing end-of-year subject tests, the state has begun transitioning from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to new standardized tests - the Florida Standards Assessment - which line up with the new college and career ready standards.

These tests, which are used to grade schools, have also been met with much opposition from a consortium of twelve school districts representing nearly half the state’s public school enrollment. The group is taking their concerns - which include the tests needing proper validation, and a lack of training and adequate technology for teachers who need to transition into a new form of testing – to state officials according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Other states have been working out their own transitions into teacher evaluations as well:

In New Jersey, student scores on new standardized state tests will count for 10 percent of the evaluation for the reading and math teachers who give them. Twenty percent of will be based on student growth objectives set by teachers and administrators.

A survey of public educators conducted in Maryland by the Community Training and Assistance Center and WestEd found that only half of teachers believed the expectations of the evaluation system put in place across the state last school year were clear. In addition, the use of state tests in rating teachers has been delayed two years to see if the scores will be a reliable factor.