Despite Computer Problems, Florida Tests Found Valid


A recently-released study has found Florida's new standardized test is valid, but that it has aspects that are "problematic". Because of this, the study says, schools should not attempt to make "critical decisions" about students based only on results of its computer-based exams.

The Orlando Sentinel's Leslie Postal writes that a"validity study" of the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) ascertained that the test was reliable and accurate as to whether students mastered state academic standards. The study also confirmed that the data could be used for teacher evaluations and to calculate A-to-F grades for public schools.

"Computer problems" opened the testing's validity to debate, especially since it was difficult to determine how many students were affected by computer glitches. The Florida Department of Education estimated that 1 to 5 percent of students had computer trouble on each test, but school district officials said there were "serious systematic issues impacting a significant number of students."

The study announced that,"the evaluation team can reasonably state that the spring 2015 administration of the FSA did not meet the normal rigor and standardization expected with a high-stakes assessment program like the FSA." Students in third grade through high school take FSA tests in language arts and math.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said it is likely that the department will will seek financial reparation from its contractor. But overall, the commissioner thought the FSA was well-constructed and added that her department would release scores and will be planning for the same testing in 2016. She also explained that Florida does not make the FSA test the only component in key decisions concerning students.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says the study shows that on some exams, one in three questions were not appropriate for testing Florida standards, according to John O'Connor of NPR's StateImpact. He says this is because the contractor, the American Institutes for Research, recycled questions that were originally written for a Utah exam.

The outside reviewer, Alpine Testing Solutions, found enough problems to consider not issuing A-to-F grades for schools. Carvalho, along with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, sent a press release which stated they still had "serious concerns" about the FSA tests.

The independent study of the test, which replaced the FCAT, was ordered by the Florida Legislature after so many exceptions took place during the computer-based testing. The release of the scores was delayed from its original date of release in early June. But Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie says the first year of testing should only be used as a baseline, and the assessment's implementation and the amount of testing being done in schools should still be serious concerns.

"I don't believe that parents or communities are all of a sudden relieved because the tests are now, quote, valid," Runcie said. "I think the question is always, how are these assessments used? And again, in this case, there are still questions about the conditions under which the tests were administered."

Brittany Shammas, reporting for the Sun Sentinel, writes that Broward Teachers Union President Sharon Glickman said that the state should reevaluate the idea of using the scores in any way. But in about three weeks, parents can expect to receive preliminary scores that will compare how their children performed compared to other students.

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