Alachua County Public Schools students in VPK through 10th grade began taking standardized tests with the new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking less than a month into the school year. (Emma Behrmann/ WUFT News)

Florida Standards Assessments’ replacement increases testing time

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Computer-based testing gives 9-year-old Sailor Hulbert a headache. This year, she has to sit in front of a screen and click through questions three times instead of bubbling in a test booklet once.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” the Kimball Wiles Elementary student said of the new testing model for the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking.

Sailor and students across Alachua County Public Schools began taking standardized tests with the new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking less than a month into the school year. Students in voluntary prekindergarten through 10th grade will participate in this assessment three times a year.

The Florida Assessment of Student Thinking replaces the end-of-the-year Florida Standards Assessments and monitors student progress in the fall, winter and spring. Each cycle tests students’ knowledge of the entire year’s material in English Language Arts and mathematics. The first testing window began Aug. 8 for voluntary prekindergarten through second grade students. The window to administer the test to third through 10th grade students is Aug. 15 through Sept. 30, according to the Florida Department of Education.

“It’s frustrating because it’s the beginning of the year, so there’s tons of stuff on the test that you don’t know how to do,” Sailor said.

Nine-year-old Sailor, a Kimball Wiles Elementary School student, practices her multiplication, Sept. 16, a skill she put to use during her first Florida Assessment of Student Thinking math assessment. (Emma Behrmann/ WUFT News)

Students like Sailor are accustomed to the Florida Standards Assessments, which was paper based for those in third through sixth grade and was administered once at the end of the year. Now, students as young as 4 years old are assessed on online-only platforms as early as the second week of school.

Last September, Gov. Ron DeSantis backed the legislative proposal that implemented the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking and signed the legislation, SB 1048, March 15. The proposal promised a 75% reduction in testing time and data reports released throughout the school year to inform teachers and parents of their students’ growth. However, a comparison of the testing minutes for each of the tests shows the new model is not administered in “three much shorter tests” as the governor said.

Taylor Gilfillan, ACPS data analytics, accountability and evaluation director, examined the prescribed minutes for the English Language Arts and math Florida Standards Assessment, compared them to the English Language Arts and Florida Assessment of Student Thinking testing minutes and said she detected a contradiction.

For example, third graders who took the Florida Standards Assessment had two 80-minute sessions for math and two 80-minute sessions for English Language Arts. With one Florida Assessment of Student Thinking assessment, third graders have up to 80 minutes for math and 90 minutes for English Language Arts, three times a year.

“From a pitch of saying we’re going to have less testing, we’ve now gone from 320 minutes to nearly 600 minutes of testing,” Gilfillan said.

More time spent testing means less instructional time. Camyrn, a 14-year-old Eastside High School student, noticed this loss within the first cycle of the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking.

She returned from school and told her mother, Tina Days, “Momma, we’re losing instructional time because of taking the FAST.”

Camyrn said on days her school administered Florida Assessment of Student Thinking testing, she had a “free day.” Her teachers didn’t want to give a lesson to some class periods and not others. When the ninth grader took her English Language Arts Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, she couldn’t tell the difference from the assessment she took last year. Even though the tests seemed similar, she must take the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking assessment three times as opposed to a single Florida Standards Assessment in the spring.

“My daughter said, ‘I really had the FSA. It’s still the same,’” Days said. “Now, I have my daughter saying she’d rather go back to FSA. She’d rather take it one time a year than three times.”

Testing three times a year leads students to spend more time in proctored computer labs. But it also produces reports for teachers to monitor student needs and make adjustments to ensure students master the standards by the third round of testing, which is the cycle that determines a school’s grade and whether a student is performing at grade level, Gilfillan said.

“High stakes testing, things like the FSA, are what I would refer to as an autopsy,” Gilfillan said. “It’s what you do when it’s too late.”

The Florida Assessment of Student Thinking serves as a wellness check. Data reports are available to send to parents two weeks following the assessment, Gilfillan said. Parents of voluntary prekindergarten through second grade students will receive a different report from those of third through 10th grade students because of Florida Assessment of Student Thinking’s administration on two platforms.

A vendor that can provide assessments three times a year for all students voluntary prekindergarten through 10th grade doesn’t exist, Gilfillan said, so the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking lives on two platforms. Renaissance, a national product operating in states other than Florida, tests voluntary prekindergarten through second grade students, and Cambium, which is the same platform Florida Standards Assessment was on, tests third through 10th graders.

Cambium’s report provides a score on a scale from one to five. For parents familiar with Florida Standards Assessment, a score of one or two indicates below grade level. Because the first cycle of Florida Assessment of Student Thinking evaluates students on what they should know by the end of the year, these numbers should not be used to determine whether a student is on grade level until the final cycle, according to the Florida Department of Education’s file for understanding Florida Assessment of Student Thinking reports for families. Renaissance’s report is different and provides parents and teachers with an overall score, percentile rank and grade equivalent based on national norms.

The district notified parents of the change to Florida Assessment of Student Thinking early in the school year, Jackie Johnson, the Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson said, and schools have sent follow-up messages to alert families that a lower score on this first cycle does not mean their student is not making the appropriate progress.

“This is simply a tool for teachers to see where the kids are now on this material and to plan accordingly for the rest of the school year,” Johnson said.

The first two cycles of Florida Assessment of Student Thinking will provide data and serve as a monitoring tool for teachers, but students face hundreds of minutes of testing throughout the year to provide such markers.

Sailor sat behind a monitor at Kimball Wiles Elementary School for 90 minutes again Sept. 15 to complete her English Language Arts Florida Assessment of Student Thinking assessment. Just like the assessment on math she took at the beginning of September, it gave her a headache.

The Florida Standards Assessment was fun, Sailor said, but Florida Assessment of Student Thinking was overwhelming, and she has four more assessments to complete before the end of the year.

About Emma Behrmann

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

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