PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — With testing set to begin in two weeks for the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA, many parents are worried about how the exams will impact their child's future after such an unprecedented school year.
Because of that, a state senator from South Florida filed a bill in January called the COVID-19 Impact on School Accountability measure.
The goal is to not penalize students, teachers, or schools based on their standardized test scores this year, and it's gaining support.
"I sit with him every day, every minute of every day, to keep him focused and doing his work," said Palm Beach County parent Leah McIntyre.
Because of her high-risk health conditions, McIntyre's son Ryan has been doing distance learning since the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
"Extreme anxiety and panic that I would possibly have to send him in, in order to get to 4th grade, and have him exposed and to then expose me," McIntyre said.
McIntyre is worried about her son going to school for the FSA test, which is set to begin in just two weeks.
The Florida Department of Education is requiring students to take the exams in person.
"I think his first experience going back to take a extremely high anxiety test for himself that's hard and difficult would not be the best way to reintroduce him back to school," McIntyre said. "It would probably be somewhat traumatizing for him."
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"Let's acknowledge that this year is not like any other year," said State Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Broward County. "This is not normal. So when we talk about a procedure that was put in place for normal circumstances, we’ve got to be able to adjust it."
That's why Sen. Thurston said he filed Senate Bill 886, which would prohibit this year's test scores from being used to hold students back or keep them from graduating.
According to the bill, if passed, the measure would prohibit "student performance results from the 2020-2021 statewide, standardized assessments from being used for determining grade 3 retention or high school graduation or for calculating student performance measurement and evaluating personnel."
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"Why do we use this catastrophe that we’ve been forced to deal with in terms of this pandemic to punish them?" Sen. Thurston said. "I think we use it as a diagnostics to see if there is a slide, how much of a slide. Not to punish individuals who are graduating, individuals who are in a turnaround position, or just teachers and letter grades and schools. That’s not necessary right now."
That's something Palm Beach County Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy agrees with.
"We need the data. We need to know what has actually happened with our childrens' learning loss or learning gains in this period. But to penalize schools, put letter grades, I 100% disagree with that at this time," Dr. Fennoy said.
Sen. Thurston said he's hopeful for a resolution, but doesn't know if that will come before testing begins.
"If we can get everyone to comply with actually taking the test, I think the department is going to be willing to agree with us that it just should not be used punitively," Sen. Thurston said.
"We will continue to advocate and push and hopefully we will prevail," Dr. Fennoy said.
McIntyre doesn't know what she'll decide to do and is eager to get some clarity soon.
"If we could get the state to realize the serious consequences of putting all the students through this, then maybe we could all breathe a sigh of relief," McIntyre said. "We spent this entire year working so hard and quarantining for it just to all be thrown away, to me, almost at the finish line."
Senate Bill 886 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 extended the FSA testing window by two weeks, and Dr. Fennoy said that will help so the school district doesn't have to test as many students on one day and can better space them out.