Concerns growing over standardized testing in Florida during COVID-19 pandemic

Students required to take FSA exams in person, according to Florida Department of Education
A student takes the Florida Standards Assessments prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 12:03:16-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There are growing concerns about the approaching statewide standardized tests in Florida.

Students are required to take the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA, in person, and the scores can impact things like graduation, teacher raises, school funding, and even being promoted to the next grade level.

Many parents said now is not the time for that kind of pressure.

"If I were faced with this decision, there's no way I would send them into a school building to take a test," said Emily Balloff, whose twin second graders are doing pretty well with distance learning.

Balloff is glad her kids are too young this year to take the FSA exams.

"No one right now is getting the same education that they are used to getting in person," Balloff said.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: State Of Education

Florida did not administer the tests last year because of how the school year ended with the rush to distance learning.

But the tests are on the calendar for this year, and it has Palm Beach County Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy concerned.

"My belief is we should still have the exams. I just don't think they should count," Fennoy said. "I do believe we need to do it for the data purposes. I just don't want it to count or be a negative to teachers' salaries, a negative impact on retention because that's a big deal."

St. Lucie Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent agrees.

"We need to test. We need to have a benchmark, but it should not be punitive in any way," Gent said.

Gent added the school district is already planning how to bring virtual students back onto campuses to take the exams.

"How do we separate them on the campus and keep them from the traditional students and keep the virtual students separate from them?" Gent said. "So it just creates a logistical challenge for each school center, and that’s something we’ve been working on for several months."

"Parents who do not want to send their kids in, the parents should not be penalized, and neither should the students. And the teachers definitely should not be held accountable," Balloff said.

Both superintendents said they are having ongoing conversations with the state about these issues.

"They have not written any of these things off. It's just the conversations to be had and to figure out the consequences of certain things," Fennoy said. "We're able to follow the rules as they give them to us. Right now, that's what we're able to do."

And that leaves parents like Balloff hopeful for a change.

"It defeats the whole purpose of keeping our kids home," Balloff said.

The Florida Standards Assessments are scheduled to begin in April. There continues to be a waiver option in place for families as in the past.

Fennoy said he would like to see another testing alternative for virtual students.

"Because we do have families who are choosing to stay home, it would be nice if we were allowed to find a way to take those assessments online," Fennoy said. "A lot of it, I'm sure, has to do with security and a lot of those things."

WPTV contacted the Florida Department of Education, and a spokesperson said that remote test administration is not an option.

A spokesperson for the Martin County School District sent this statement to WPTV about the FSA exams:

"Our teachers and school administrators are in regular contact with the parents/guardians of students who are participating in remote learning to offer support and extend invitations for students to return to the school setting."

In a weekly e-newsletter to parents, the Martin County School District said, "The Florida Department of Education is requiring all of this year's statewide assessments -- including Florida Standards Assessments and End-of-Course Exams -- to be taken in person. If your child is currently attending school remotely, we would appreciate the opportunity to welcome them back to campus. This will allow them to become reacquainted with the school-based learning environment and prepared to take state assessments."

For a full schedule of the 2021 Florida Standards Assessments, click here.

To learn more information about the graduation requirements for the FSA exams, click here.