This story is part of Untold Florida: Your Neighborhood, Your Story, a WUFT News series built from your questions. Jim from Ocala asked us why schools add on extra testing beyond the statewide Florida Standards Assessment test.
KSMA, Quarterly Standards Mastery Assessment, AIM, Developmental Reading Assessment, End-Of-Course, and the list goes on.
School board members, teachers and parents have all voiced concerns since the end of the last school year about how much time students spent taking tests during the school day.
Some parents feel teachers are spending more of their time testing students than they are teaching them.
One local parent, Diana Jones, agrees.
“I get it, students need to be tested. I can’t even keep up anymore with all the tests my kid has,” Jones said. “The FSA seems to just be like benchmarks.”
Every October, county public schools are required to submit to the state what is called a K-12 Uniform Assessment Calendar. A Marion County Education Specialist, Chris Sandy worked on creating the 2018-19 assessment calendar.
Sandy heard the concerns about too much time spent on testing, and she was happy to report that last school year, the number of tests administered went down.
“We actually, on an average now, we are averaging only 1.8% of K-12 of a students school year is in assessments,” Sandy said. “Whether that be state driven, FSA for example, and or local driven that we made the decision to provide. And so we have reduced it from last year to this year.”
That figure — 1.8% of a school year — could sound confusing, so here’s the math: there are 180 days of school, which equals 64,800 minutes in a school year. With the new calendar, students are only supposed to be in testing for just over 1,100 minutes of their school year. The district says on average, one test should take students 45 minutes to complete.
Jackie LaRoche, a second-grade teacher at Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville, disagrees.
Her students took a test that was “supposed to be one class period, so maybe 45 minutes, but I break it into two. There’s no way the kids could get it done in one,” LaRoche said. “I think it’s four passages, a lot of questions, really hard language so I would definitely say what the district says how long a test should take is not accurate.”
Teachers continue to say the tests take longer than what the district anticipates, which leads to confusion between the two claims. The county responded by saying not only has it reduced testing minutes from last year, but it’s also gone way below the state limits.
“The state said you could go up to 5%,” Sandy said. “But we have worked hard to get those numbers down to what we believe will give our teachers the data that they need for the teacher-led instruction.”
Because of the heavy focus on testing, LaRoche says the testing curriculum she’s given from the district does not cover the standards she also has to teach.
“I mean the curriculum we’re given doesn’t touch on what we’re being required to teach, which is obviously a problem,” LaRoche said. “So we have standards that we teach and then the curriculum that I’m given from the district don’t cover all of those standards. So already as a teacher, I’m disadvantaged because, in order to properly teach my students, I have to on my own go find resources to cover those standards.”
Average testing minutes have indeed gone down from last school year. Still, LaRoche said her classroom philosophy of informally assessing her students every day is hindered.
“I didn’t get an education to give a test,” LaRoche said. “I didn’t get an education so students could get a 5 on the FSA, right? I got an education to get students to love learning, to love to read, to feel inspired, to want to really love learning and then want to continue learning to find a passion, and so a lot of that focus on testing is taking away from that.”