By: State Rep. Steve Crisafulli, Guest columnist
September 22, 2014
During the past few months, there’s been a wave of complaints about testing in Florida. We’ve been heavily criticized for a purported “recent obsession” with standardized tests. If the allegations were true, it would indeed be troubling. Relegating students to mindlessly bubble forms is not the way to educate children.
Parents should know the facts about testing, because unraveling our current system would have significant negative consequences on student learning, education funding, and, ultimately, a graduate’s ability to find a job in today’s global marketplace.
First, a bit of history: Florida law has required testing in every class in every grade since 1999. We did so because our education system was failing our kids and we needed to know why. Since then, our graduation rate has risen from 60.2 percent (including GEDs) to 75.6 percent (excluding GEDs). According to the 2013 Quality Counts Report, Florida schools are ranked sixth in the nation. While all Florida students have improved, African-American and Hispanic students have made the most gains. In 2013, Florida ranked first in the nation among fourth-grade Hispanic students in reading and 10th among eighth-grade African-American students in reading.
Unfortunately, some are misusing the phrase “high stakes” when describing tests. Most state-required tests have absolutely no requirement for students to obtain a specific grade or score; the results are diagnostic tools for parents and teachers.
For some courses, we require a standardized assessment. However, the majority of tests are selected by school districts. Local boards may use district-standardized tests, end-of-course exams or tests developed by teachers. Local school boards, not the state, make the choice.
Six end-of-course exams are required by the state, but they only count toward 30 percent of a student’s final course grade. They are: middle school civics, high school U.S. history, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2 and biology. The only truly high-stakes tests are third-grade reading, high school algebra 1 and 10th-grade English. We believe students must demonstrate competency in these courses before they can move on. Even at these critical junctures, students have multiple opportunities and ways to demonstrate proficiency; one test on one day does not determine a child’s future.
The recent misuse of the phrase “high-stakes tests” can be attributed to the fact the results are now high stakes for teachers. Starting this year, teachers are eligible for performance pay based in part on student progress. Teachers aren’t graded on a child’s ability to pass a test, but are rewarded for helping children make progress. We understand children come from different backgrounds and possess varying knowledge and skills, but every child can learn.
Finally, our accountability system is the basis for a significant amount of funding. We have a partnership with the federal government. It’s one that must constantly be monitored to prevent encroachment upon our state’s rights — and we’re doing just that. We’re required to give annual statewide standardized tests to show our students are learning. To meet this requirement, Florida has developed its own set of high-quality standards and its own statewide assessments.
If we simply refuse these requirements, we would certainly lose billions of dollars for our schools. Especially hard hit would be funding for high- poverty schools and students with disabilities. Money isn’t the only loss to our students. The fact of the matter is that life is a series of tests. If you want a driver’s license, you need to pass a test. When you apply to college, you need to pass a test. If you want to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, electrician, architect, plumber or engineer, you must pass a test.
If we stop measuring our kids’ progress, we’ll return to a failed system in which students are promoted from grade to grade without having the crucial reading, writing and math skills they need to succeed.
We must not reverse course. By holding ourselves accountable for learning gains and achievement, our students will be better prepared for the future, and our best and brightest teachers will be rewarded for their hard work. These are the true motivations for our education policies in Florida.
Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, represents House District 51 in Central Brevard. He is the Florida House speaker-designate.