MELBOURNE, Fla. — With concerns growing among children and parents, the scores of the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA exams, may not end up counting toward student retention and graduation, or critical factors like teacher pay and school funding, Florida's education commissioner suggested on Monday.
The FSA exams are due to begin on April 5, but during such an unprecedented school year, many parents are worried about how the tests will impact their child's future.
Speaking at news conference in Melbourne on Monday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the U.S. Department of Education is giving all states the opportunity to request a waiver to potentially eliminate the accountability requirements of standardized tests like the FSA.
In a Feb 22. letter to state governors and education officials, the Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondard Education said:
"A state receiving this waiver would not be required to implement and report the results of its accountability system, including calculating progress toward long-term goals and measurements of interim progress or indicators..."
The letter appeared to give individual states the flexibility to decide whether the results of statewide standardized tests should count toward student, teacher, and school performance, saying:
"...we also encourage states and school districts to consider other steps within your purview to further reduce the stakes of assessments this year, such as excluding their use from students’ final grades and grade promotion decisions."
Corcoran said his office is now gathering input from school superintendents across the state before making a decision on the waiver.
"When we get that input, we apply for the waiver, and then we'll collaboratively figure out what is the best to do," Corcoran said.
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The education commissioner said that, regardless of whether the scores end up counting or not, all students who are able should take the FSA exams.
"All sides say you want that accountability," Corcoran said. ""We gotta go out there and get the measurement. When we get the measurement, then we can sit back, look at that data and make the decisions that are best for children."
Due to growing fears among parents, State Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Broward County, filed a bill in January that would prohibit this year's test scores from being used to hold students back or keep them from graduating.
"Why do we use this [COVID-19] catastrophe that we’ve been forced to deal with in terms of this pandemic to punish [students]?" Thurston told WPTV's Stephanie Susskind.
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Thurson's bill is currently in the Florida Senate's Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and there is also a companion bill in the Florida House of Representatives.
The Florida Department of Education has already extended the FSA testing window by two weeks to give school districts more flexibility to administer the exams.
Currently, the state is requiring students to take the tests in-person, including those who have been in distance learning all school year.
Dr. Donald Fennoy, the superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County, told WPTV that extending the testing window will allow schools to better space out students.
"We need the data. We need to know what has actually happened with our childrens' learning loss or learning gains in this period," Fennoy said. "But to penalize schools, put letter grades, I 100% disagree with that at this time."
Corcoran on Monday assured parents that the Florida Department of Education will work with local school districts to ensure that the testing process is as safe as possible.
"We want them to understand that it is safe, and to get that evaluation of their child and where they need to go after a year in the pandemic is overwhelmingly more important," Corcoran said. "We will do what is right, we will do what is just, we will do what is fair, and we are leading with grace and compassion."
Cheryl Etters, the deputy director of communications for the Florida Department of Education, sent additional information in a written statement to WPTV:
"It is important to understand and communicate to Floridians that submission and approval of these waivers does not mean Florida is exempt from the requirements in state law regarding assessment, accountability and school improvement. We will apply for these waivers from federal law to maximize our sovereignty in making these decisions. Receipt of these waivers of federal law enhances our ownership of these decisions that are critical to ensuring our children’s education."
To see the full FSA testing schedule, click here.