Florida is eliminating its multi-day, end-of-year assessments and replacing them with a "progress monitoring system" that will assess students three times a year through tests that take a few hours instead of a few days.
This model will "be shorter, it would be more individualized, it would provide more feedback for students, for teachers and for parents," Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week prior to signing the legislation enacting the change. He added that the new system will provide districts the same information as the current system, except within a shorter time frame of one to two weeks, "which allows real-time intervention before it's too late."
The change will be implemented in the 2022-23 school year, which the state will then consider the new baseline for school accountability. That year will also be considered a "hold harmless" transition year, with school grades assigned by the state being put on pause for a year until 2023-24.
The change in the Sunshine State is one of the more high-profile shifts in state assessments since the COVID-19 pandemic and predictions that building closures would impact how high-stakes tests are viewed and conducted.
It also comes after the U.S. Departments of Education under secretaries Miguel Cardona and Betsy DeVos urged states to rethink assessment.
However, the new testing format in Florida will not detangle its results from high-stakes accountability in the long term, with 3rd-grade retention, high school graduation, teacher pay and school grades still impacted by the exams, according to the Florida Education Association.
The union expressed its disappointment in the change, which did not meet its expectations of ending high-stakes testing entirely.
"When the governor said he was reducing testing, teachers and parents saw a real opportunity to fix what’s wrong with how Florida assesses students. We imagined better outcomes for kids," said FEA President Andrew Spar in a statement. "This bill does not reduce testing but increases it. The bill does not focus on student learning or on providing teachers time to monitor and assess children’s progress. In fact, it probably will add more work for already overwhelmed teachers."
The decision to keep scores tied to accountability is also in line with trends predicted by assessment experts, who sensed hesitancy around changes in accountability systems despite education leaders' enthusiasm for assessment innovation.
Now, experts are also raising other questions around the transition process and new design.
For example, the vendor responsible for the new computer-based testing system has not yet been selected, Dale Chu, assessment expert and consultant, said in an email. "But perhaps most notably, there’s disagreement as to whether the new law will actually reduce testing time — which we won’t know until after the state department of education irons the wrinkles out in their rule-making process," Chu added.
While DeSantis said the new tests would take a few hours, the FEA pointed out that the new legislation "was silent on the length of tests."
Another question is around the tests' design and whether they will meet federal requirements for state assessments.
"They know what they need to do to meet the federal requirements, but we’ll have to see what compromises they’ll have to make on their design," said Scott Marion, executive director of the Center for Assessment. "I haven’t seen any specific design proposals, so it hard to tell what compromises they might have to make."."
In an email, a Department of Education spokesperson emphasized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides flexibility to administer statewide assessments. The department conducts a review by a third-party panel of state assessment systems to determine if they meet national testing standards, typically after the state first administers a new assessment.
According to Chu, "There’s definitely a question as to whether Florida’s proposal would meet federal requirements." But, he said, going "head-to-head with Uncle Sam — and more specifically the Biden administration — is expected of anyone with 2024 aspirations," referencing speculation DeSantis will run for president in the next presidential election.
Marion also said that without a high-quality bridge study, Florida "will lose the ability to monitor the effects of the pandemic and any subsequent recovery" because of the new design and baseline. Bridge studies are often used when transitioning to a new model, to compare results of the revised and original assessments in a way that provides a basis for comparison for future assessments and continues the trendline across years.
Overall, Chu said, there are more questions than answers.
"That’s because this entire process has been the equivalent of playing a drawn-out game of poker with your hand facing up," Chu said, adding that working out logistics and details prior to the announcement would have answered the "big questions" that remain.