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What will replace the FSA? Florida educators hope it’s less punitive

Rachael Shaw, a math teacher at Howard Bishop Middle School, works in her classroom during her planning period. She said she’s glad that the FSA won’t be as punitive but approaches next school year cautiously until the state makes an announcement. (April Rubin/WUFT News)
Rachael Shaw, a math teacher at Howard Bishop Middle School, works in her classroom during her planning period. She said she’s glad that the FSA won’t be as punitive but approaches next school year cautiously until the state makes an announcement. (April Rubin/WUFT News)

Rachael Shaw is one of thousands of Florida teachers who is largely relieved that high stakes won’t be placed on one day of her students’ lives as the FSA phases out. But she worries about curriculum flexibility as she waits to learn what the replacement exams will look like. 

When Shaw, now a math teacher at Howard Bishop Middle School, taught science, she worried because students took the FSA once at the end of eighth grade, meaning they had to recall three years of material. With her math classes, textbook material doesn’t always match what is going to be in the FSA.

The FSA, which had been in place since 2015 when it replaced the FCAT, won’t be administered starting next school year, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in September. Educators have advocated for this for years and supported the decision, but now they contemplate what the next steps might be. 

The assessment’s replacement will be a continuous monitoring system where progress is tracked throughout the school year and results can inform the rest of the semester’s teaching, DeSantis said. Neither he nor the Department of Education have announced details about the assessment’s replacement. 

Shaw, who is in her 16th year teaching in Alachua County, is concerned, though, that testing throughout the year will allow for less flexibility in the teachers’ curriculum. Rather than focusing needs based on each class, they’ll have to fit content in before each progress exam, so she hopes the state announces a plan that allows for adapting. 

“I want to show growth for the students,” she said. “I love seeing those scores that improve, but to be punished for the lack of growth is the part that we have disdain for.” 

Education experts say state testing should be used to check students’ learning and hold teachers accountable. The Florida Standards Assessment was not fairly doing so. 

FSA results have been used punitively, said Christopher Busey, an associate professor in the UF College of Education. It creates testing anxiety for students and education anxiety for teachers. Students of color and those of low socioeconomic background disproportionately score lower. 

Teacher bonuses and school ranking are also dependent on these scores. Schools could face closing as a result of low scores. One day of testing can’t account for an academic year’s worth of learning, Busey said. Nor does it capture all the critical thinking skills used in the classroom.  

“We have to think real critically about these decisions before we celebrate them,” he said. 

Florida’s educators and parents should ask themselves why this is happening now and advocate for a more fair system, Busey said. 

To Corrine Huggins-Manley, the most important change is what the results will be used for. The associate professor in the UF College of Education who studies educational measurement said this change does not get rid of standardized testing in the state. Standardized testing refers to the ways an exam is administered, such as maintaining a consistent testing environment when it comes to time and distractions to produce reliable data. 

“Under the new plan, the focus is going to be on using the tests to help teachers improve teaching and help students learn,” she said. 

The FSA was a summative assessment, meaning it summarized the learning of the previous years. By the time results came back, students were on summer vacation and their next teachers had to focus on the next year’s curriculum. The replacement should function as a formative assessment, she said, allowing teachers to adapt their education throughout the school year after their students’ results. 

Some individual districts already use progress monitoring checks for accountability, but Florida would be the first state in the U.S. to do so. Alachua County has administered progress monitoring assessments for at least 25 years, Jackie Johnson, district spokesperson said.

“The test feedback is more useful diagnostic information that’s specific to skills so that teachers can know where the weaknesses and strengths are,” she said. 

Megan Hendricks, mother of fifth and seventh graders in Alachua County schools, started pushing for more fair exams about a decade ago. She noticed that the FSA changed how students learn to be test-focused and less authentic. Hendricks brought her concerns to the Florida legislature and founded UnitED for Florida Children, a group that advocates for education reform. 

As a member of the Alachua County Council of PTAs, she has also had parents express worries about testing anxieties. Students can’t graduate without passing certain exams, even though the exams aren’t necessarily a summary of their complete education. 

“This is finally our chance to actually bring some authentic assessments back into the classroom,” she said. 

April is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.