Don’t count standardized tests this year, legislators say

Scott Travis, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

In an academic year marked by a pandemic and poor academic performance, students and teachers shouldn’t face penalties for poor results on standardized tests, two Broward legislators say.

Unlike last year, when the state canceled all standardized testing due to COVID-19, students would still take the exams, under a bill filed by freshman Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, and veteran Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.

But the tests would be low stakes, not high stakes.

“A statewide standardized assessment should be used to inform instruction and identify students who need support,” Thurston said.

The bill would prevent the tests from being used to evaluate teachers or hold students back. In most years, students must pass the third grade Florida Standards Assessment reading test to be promoted to fourth grade and must pass the 10th grade language arts exam to graduate high school.

Data from South Florida districts show the pandemic has taken a toll on student performance, with the number of F’s and student absences more than doubling from a year ago.

Thurston said he doesn’t want the scores used for school grades either. Letter grades can affect everything from student enrollment to housing prices. However, the wording of the bill suggests that schools can still be graded, as long as they’re “not subject to sanctions or penalties that would otherwise occur.”

The proposal is supported by most school districts, including those in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, who have included similar language in their legislative platforms.

“There was nothing typical about this school year,” said Bartleman, who served on the Broward School Board from 2004 to 2020. “Teachers and students lost family members, faced housing and food insecurity, quarantines and many of our students are dealing with mental health issues.”

What’s unclear is what kind of support the bill may have in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Fort Lauderdale Rep. Chip LaMarca, the only Broward Republican in the Legislature, said he wasn’t consulted.

“I have strong thoughts about making sure they’re teaching kids, and we have to have a way to evaluate teachers,” said LaMarca, who sits on the House Education and Employment Committee. “But as far as what they’re proposing specifically, I’d have to take a look at it.”

A spokeswoman from the state Department of Education also said she was checking to see if the agency had any comment. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran generally has the authority to make temporary changes to state accountability without the Legislature’s approval.

The state has told school districts that standardized testing will resume this spring, and students must take it in person, even though most students in South Florida have been learning at home virtually for nearly a year. School districts are sanctioned if fewer than 95% of students show up to take the test.

“Families that have only been opting for at home-e-learning approach will need to send their children in,” said Dan Gohl, chief academic officer in Broward County. “Schools will need to strongly encourage parents to opt for something different than they’ve chosen for instruction.”