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Marion County Schools Make Time For More Instruction By Suspending Tests

Two students working in the computer lab at Eighth Street Elementary School. (Gaby Rodriguez/WUFT News)
Two students working in the computer lab at Eighth Street Elementary School. (Gaby Rodriguez/WUFT News)

Marion County Public Schools alerted principals Monday that certain previously required local student assessments would be suspended.

In the memo, Marion County Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Jonathan Grantham, stated that the change came as a way to provide more instructional time for students.

"Our superintendent promised to look at required assessments and stop any that did not meet specific needs for students,” said Kevin Christian, Public Relations Officer for Marion County Public Schools. “This move also allows teachers more time to do what they do best -- teach our students."

Assessments that will no longer be required include AIMSweb Benchmarks, ELA and Math Learning Checks, Number Fluency Checks and a few other assessments. These assessments are all aimed at providing teachers with data that will inform them of how each student is doing within a given subject.

Students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade will stay take from three to seven assessments this school year, depending on their grade level. Assessments include writing assessments, reading exams and the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA), the required statewide test that replaced the FCAT in 2014.

News of these changes was well received by Treasa Buck, principal of Eighth Street Elementary School, one of the 31 elementary schools in Marion County. Buck said that many of the previously required assessments took time away from the students’ actual learning time, which was a detail that upset parents as well as teachers.

“When you’re doing 4, 5, 6 (assessments) at one time, that's really taking away from teaching time,” Buck said. “I can see where the parents were upset. (They think) ‘Well I send my kids to school to learn and to be taught and they get home and all they did was an assessment.’”

One of the assessments suspended from the schools, AIMSweb Benchmark Assessments, measure areas like letter naming and letter-sound fluency. These benchmark assessments were given approximately 3 times a year and according to Buck, their data was not always conclusive enough.

Buck said these assessments didn't pinpoint what the specific concern is with the student and would just put them into a level. Teachers would then try to help students without really knowing in depth how a student was struggling.

While these assessments will no longer be required, according to the memo they will still be available if a teacher feels a certain student would benefit from them.

Rachel Burrage, a 1st grade teacher at Eighth Street Elementary, agrees with the changes and said the continuous assessments were not beneficial to students.

“The testing environment is very stressful for the age group I teach, because I teach 6-and-7-year-olds, and they’re having to sit for an extended period of time which is obviously very hard for any child, especially of that age group,” Burrage said. “Its just not developmentally appropriate to ask them to sit still and to focus on one task for more than about 10-15 minutes.”

Burrage said that many students, especially those who performed lower on assessments, would become emotionally distressed during assessments. The fact that there will be fewer assessments will help with these students’ stress levels.

Marion County Schools will now be able to adjust the amount of given assessments as they see fit with less pressure coming from county requirements.

“Were going to be able to tailor our assessments and our instruction to what Eighth Street Elementary needs just as the next school is go[ing to] be able to tailor theirs to what their kids' schools need and not necessarily have a blanket assessment for every kid to take,” Buck said.

Gaby is a former reporter for WUFT News.