Dear Florida Parents,
There has been much said recently about an overabundance of testing in schools, and I understand that it can be difficult to decide how this impacts your child’s education.
So let’s take a deeper look at testing.
Obviously, tests are nothing new. Who doesn’t remember cramming for a final exam? The intent of those tests was to measure what we learned during the year, which is why they counted heavily on the final grade.
That approach hasn’t changed. What has changed is now we have standardized tests developed by the state and school districts serving as final exams.
Why? Because they ensure that all kids are taught to the same high standards. And they give parents a much more honest, objective report of how their children are doing.
For example, if your child scores a Level 5 out of 5 on her end of course exam in Algebra I, you know that she knows algebra. You also know how her score stacks up against her peers across the state. By comparison, if you have 10,000 math teachers drawing up 10,000 final algebra exams, the quality and rigor of the tests will vary wildly, and the results will not be nearly as trustworthy.
Standardized tests also guard against giving students a high grade even when they have not learned the material. The high grade may help the school, teacher or even students temporarily but it does nothing to help students be successful in the future.
This is why the College Board, the organization that creates the SAT, develops Advanced Placement (AP) tests. It wants to ensure that all AP students are taught to the same college-level standard. Because these tests are standardized, colleges know a passing score in Orlando means the same thing in Tampa or Boston — that students learned the material. It also is why most universities rely on standardized college entrance exams.
Schools have the freedom to teach however they think is best. But standardized tests ensure schools teach all children to the same high expectations. Without them, history shows some schools set lower expectations for some students. And we shouldn’t have a system that discriminates.
You may have also heard a lot about “high stakes” tests. There are in fact very few high stakes tests for students in Florida.
To graduate, they must pass an English language arts test, ensuring they can at least read at a 10th grade level. They also must pass an Algebra I exam. They have several opportunities to retake these tests and also can substitute satisfactory scores from other tests, including the SAT or ACT to meet the graduation requirements.
Not all states have exit exam requirements, but Florida was one of the leading states in the country to set this type of policy under Governor Bob Graham’s leadership.We must set standards for earning a high school diploma, or the diploma loses its meaning.
State tests also serve a critical role in identifying struggling readers in the early grades so teachers can provide the necessary support to help those students learn to read. Florida does have a promotion policy for third grade students who don’t read well enough to be successful in fourth grade and beyond, because students who cannot read by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out. But that promotion decision isn’t based on the results of one test. Students have other opportunities to pass a nationally recognized reading test such as the SAT 10 or Iowa Test of Basic Skills or demonstrate sufficient reading skills through a teacher-developed portfolio to be promoted.
Far from punitive, these policies have made Florida a national leader in advancing early-grade literacy, and have played a significant role in the state’s increasing graduation rate.
Most tests are labeled “high stakes’’ because they are included in the school accountability calculations to determine the school’s grade. Like the grades students earn, the A-F grades earned by schools serve as a simple tool to inform parents how well their children’s schools are performing. We have these “high stakes” to ensure that your children’s schools are doing the best job educating them. Because what is more high stakes than your child’s future?
Test results do put pressure on schools, and unfortunately, that means sometimes adults transfer pressure to their students. This is wrong and it doesn’t have to be. There are many schools that empower their students and build their confidence to do their best on the test, rather than create a culture of stress. We need to see this culture of confidence spread throughout all of our schools!
While I strongly believe in tests, I agree there is such a thing as too many tests. While state required tests take up less than one percent of classroom time, school districts vary in how many tests they mandate. Some districts require hardly any additional testing, while others require nearly 200 additional tests. Most often, they administer “benchmark tests’’ to measure student progress during the year. These tests may be overdone and we’ve heard from too many teachers who don’t get the results back quickly or clearly enough to help them in the classroom. Tests need to serve a purpose and not simply take up valuable classroom time. It’s refreshing to see that some districts are reviewing their local tests. And we would encourage the state to also do a review to see if there are duplicative tests that could be eliminated.
I believe in fewer tests, better tests, and tests that serve a meaningful purpose — to ensure our schools prepare our children for a life where they are able to thrive.
Isn’t this the primary goal of every parent? And as parents, can’t we agree that it also should be the primary goal of every school?
Florida Parent and CEO of @ExcelinEd
About the author
Patricia Levesque @levesquepat
Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at PatriciaLevesque@excelined.org.