Testing Glitches Concern Florida Parents, Teachers

Published July 6, 2015

Twice this academic year, students attempting to take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) had to stop because of technical problems with the computer program used to administer the tests.

This major disruption created problems with the previously planned curriculum and evaluation, causing a ripple effect throughout the school system.

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says the disruptions were caused by changes made to the test by the American Institute for Research, a third-party company hired to administer the state’s version of Common Core-aligned tests.

“Technical glitches make already stressful testing situations even worse,” said Carol C. Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York. “The fact that these tests continue to be used for high stakes consequences … is indefensible.”

Members of the Lee County Education Action Committee in Florida are asking parents and concerned citizens to call Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and demand he sign an emergency executive order protecting students from negative consequences for scores on standardized tests.

In April, Scott signed HB 7069, a bill placing a hold on the use of test scores affecting student grades, promotion of students to higher grade levels, and teacher evaluations. The bill caps the amount of time spent on standardized testing to 45 hours per year and decreases the impact of testing scores on teacher evaluations.

‘Aggravation and Stress’

The problems with standardized tests disrupt the education process, says teacher and counselor Jed Applerouth, owner of Applerouth Tutoring.

“It’s simply a matter of aggravation for the administration, more so than for the students,” said Applerouth.” This creates a disruption for teachers and administrators trying to manage their schedules. And the school district should naturally be upset with [its] vendor, [who is] responsible for administering a multimillion-dollar contract and missing key deadlines. Clearly there was a breakdown, either due to inadequate oversight, lack of quality control testing, or agreeing to a timeline that was too aggressive. We can only speculate regarding the root causes of failure. But a pattern of failure is unacceptable and causes aggravation and stress.”

Florida is one of more than a dozen states to experience complications this year alone, but it is at the forefront of scrutiny after former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) instituted a test-based accountability system.

States such as New Jersey rolled out the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test this year for the first time, a test aligned with Common Core standards.

Andrew Bernstein, a high school student in Millburn, New Jersey says the PARCC test was a confusing waste of time.

“It seemed as if the school district was receiving instructions on the test as they went,” said Bernstein.

He says the second question on the test didn’t work because the page wouldn’t load, and school officials weren’t aware of the problem until after he finished the exam.

The PARCC test, which is geared toward measuring student progress according to Common Core standards, has led to a large opt-out movement across the country. In the Montclair Public School System in New Jersey, 39 percent of students in grades 3–11 opted out of PARCC testing this year.

‘An Entirely Diseased Approach’

Arvin Vohra, owner of Arvin Education and creator of the Vohra Method of individualized, hands-on tutoring, says it will take years to assess the efficacy of the new standardized testing and Common Core.

“The glitches in the Common Core tests are symptoms of the rushed, ill-considered methodology underlying all of Common Core,” Vohra said. “Parents who are concerned for their children will take the glitches in testing as a symptom of an entirely diseased approach and fully reject Common Core.”

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, argues the tests are unreliable because so many variables are not corrected for, such as differences in scheduling, technical problems, and computers used.

“The fact that the students have not taken the test [in Florida] under the same conditions means that the test isn’t even standardized,” Schaeffer said in a press release addressing the recent problems in Florida. “This fiasco was caused by politically-driven assessment policies that ignored multiple warnings from educators, technical experts and parents.”

Diana-Ashley Krach ([email protected]) writes from Lake Worth, Florida. 

Image by Josh Davis.