National News

Proposal to swap tests hits obstacle

Posted January 6, 2018 12:06 a.m. EST

A proposal to let Florida school districts replace some state tests with national ones hit a major roadblock this week, as a group of experts said the idea wouldn't work.

Reviewers from universities in Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin said the SAT and ACT are not compatible with the high school language arts and algebra exams that Florida teens take each spring.

Known as the Assessment Solutions Group, the reviewers concluded that allowing individual school districts to pick between a state test or one of the two national tests, as has been proposed, would be "inappropriate" and likely would violate federal standards. The group found that the ACT would need "major" adjustments to meet Florida's 10th grade language arts demands, for instance, and the SAT would need slighter changes.

For algebra I, both the ACT and SAT would require additional questions to reach state standards. Such a rewrite would be possible, the group wrote, but it would have to be done every year and would be costly and complex.

The Florida Department of Education requested the review, which cost just over $400,000, at the direction of the Legislature. Lawmakers discussed throughout 2017 the notion of reducing the number of tests that students take, and suggested that the ACT and SAT -- which many teens already sit for anyway -- could serve more than one function.

That idea gained steam two years earlier, as Seminole County School District leaders suggested it.

But Department of Education officials, most notably Commissioner Pam Stewart, voiced doubts that the national exams would provide the information Florida wanted.

In House Bill 7069, the Legislature called for a review of whether the substitution would be feasible. That report arrived Monday.

Stewart had yet to issue any formal statement on the findings and was not available for comment.

Bob Schaeffer, a longtime critic of high-stakes testing, applauded the state for looking into the proposal rather than just jumping in.

"Florida officials should take the next logical step by funding an independent examination of evidence about the value of the current graduation testing mandate," said Schaeffer, the Lee County-based public education director for FairTest. "Many other states that have undertaken similar research projects have determined that their 'exit exams' should be eliminated," including Georgia and South Carolina.

Several of Florida's school superintendents have fueled that conversation lately, passing around on social media a new column by education historian and testing critic Diane Ravitch that questions the role of testing in accountability. That discussion has not gained much traction in the Legislature.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow

@jeffsolochek.