Florida students will not need paper and pencils for some of their standardized tests this spring.
For the second year, Florida Standards Assessments will be administered online to public school students across the state. Students will start taking the proctored FSA tests at the end of the month.
The Florida Department of Education is working to make sure testing goes smoothly this year. When the exams were administered last year, there were some technical difficulties, said Florida DOE spokesperson Alix Miller.
She said the company that provided the online testing updated its system the night before the FSA was administered. Some students were logged off of their tests.
Miller said it was a technical error with the site, not the test itself.
“It was not necessarily a problem with the FSA per se,” she said.
To avoid errors this year, Hershel Lyons, the Florida DOE chancellor of public schools, sent a memo to school district superintendents that explained how to troubleshoot technical problems.
According to the memo, everyone on each district’s staff should be familiar with the FSA system requirements to make sure all devices that will be used for computer-based testing are configured correctly.
Some students, like Chiefland High School junior Jessica Ivey, saw their peers’ tests crashed. The 17-year-old said she would prefer to take the exams on paper.
Still, she said liked that the FSA allows students to highlight passages and cancel answers, just like they would be able to on a paper exam.
“I found it pretty easy to use, especially with the tools they give you,” Ivey said.
Randi Williams, a Chiefland High School sophomore, also took the FSA last year.
“I think it was pretty easy,” the 15-year-old said. “It was pretty straightforward.”
But while some of her classmates were taught how to navigate the test, she wasn’t. Randi said students in Advanced Placement courses weren’t taken out of class to learn about the exam.
She said she thought it was silly to take both an AP test and the FSA.
Some local students are experiencing testing fatigue, said Emma Durden, a science teacher and testing coordinator at Bronson Middle/High School. She said the standardized tests can feel redundant and stressful, and students are required to spend multiple days out of class.
“The effort (of the students) just kind of wanes as they’re put back in the lab,” Durden said.
At Bronson Middle/High School, computer labs are booked from April 11 to May 17 this year — all for testing, she said. If tests or computers have technical difficulties during testing times, they might have to be rescheduled, but there isn’t always time to move tests.
“Scheduling for us is a nightmare,” Durden said.
In addition to difficult scheduling, other challenges arise in the way the FSA is structured. It requires all students take the exam online, with accommodations for written exams only given to students who are physically unable to type and use the computer, Durden said.
In rural areas, students might not have access to a computer or Internet at home, which means they might not be able to practice typing quickly. Whereas students used to write their essays on paper, they are now required to type them.
“Just typing itself creates a barrier for them,” Durden said.