Marion school leaders back DeSantis plan to end FSA testing

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that he will ask the Legislature to drop the current annual standardized testing in public schools and replace it with “check-in” assessments taken throughout the year to better gauge individual student progress.

These new check-in assessments will be called the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (or F.A.S.T.) plan, which will monitor student progress and encourage individual growth, according to a press release.

“This is a big deal,” DeSantis said during an announcement at a school in South Florida.

He said the FSA tests were “outdated” and given too late in the school year for teachers to properly instruct students who are struggling or to provide information to parents when they need it.

“We are going to be ending that, and we are going to be replacing it with progress monitoring, which many school districts are doing anyway. This is short, individualized check-in assessments three times per year. This will take hours, not days, to be able to do these assessments,” said DeSantis during the same announcement.

Locally, some members of the Marion County School Board cheered the announcement.

School Board members, from left: Nancy Thrower, Kelly King, Allison Campbell, Don Browning and Eric Cummings, pose together during a meeting at the Marion County Public School Board on Sept. 7. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Nancy Thrower, chairwoman of the Marion County School Board, said on Tuesday that she is excited at the prospect of the announcement but a lot still needs to happen.

“The legislature still needs to approve whatever Governor DeSantis brings forward in the coming session,” said Thrower. “But that he’s thinking in this direction is very encouraging.”

School Board member Kelly King echoed Thrower’s sentiment.

“I’m curious and excited to see what he has in mind,” said King of the governor’s announcement, but she also said she is waiting to see what specific legislation he brings forward.

The 2022 legislative session starts in January, with pre-session committee meetings beginning next week.

Marion County School Board member Don Browning found himself in 100% alignment with DeSantis’ announcement.

“FSA started out with good intentions but it turned out that too many people were instructed to the test,” said Browning on Tuesday. “And you don’t live life learning for a test. You live life by melting down your ignorance. You live life by enhancing your knowledge.”

School Board member Allison Campbell saw the value in shaking things up.

“It could be a potential benefit to all of our students to not have to be focusing so much on the test and more so on learning,” said Campbell on Tuesday.

“But it’s all in the details,” she added. “It has to be approved first and it has to be pushed through [the Florida legislature]. But I appreciate the fact that anyone is thinking about advancing education for the betterment of our students.”

The governor’s announcement establishes a significant shift that would align Florida’s Republican leadership with the position long supported by many educators. An emphasis on standardized testing has long drawn criticism from the Florida Education Association teachers’ union and many Democrats.

The union, which has locked horns with DeSantis on other education issues, voiced support for the proposal Tuesday.

In a statement, it said eliminating statewide standardized testing would represent “a big win for our students and public schools.”

“A student’s future shouldn’t hang on one high-stakes, make-or-break test, and one test shouldn’t dominate weeks that could otherwise be used for meaningful instruction,” FEA President Andrew Spar said. “We welcome today’s announcement as a sign that Florida is moving closer to a system that focuses on students’ growth instead of on high-stakes standardized tests.”

Opponents of FSA testing say that the teachers only teach to the test, depriving children of a more rounded education. While proponents of FSA testing say the test is a viable way of making sure children are learning the skills they need to succeed.

The statewide exams in English-language arts and math are given annually to students in third through 10th grades.

If approved by the Florida Legislature, the FSA would be administered for the last time in the spring of 2022. In 2023, the FSA would be replaced by a statewide system of short, progress-monitoring tests given three times a year.

DeSantis said the proposal would lead to assessing students in the fall, winter and spring, which would reduce the amount of time spent each year on testing.

“It also informs teachers in real time during the school year, so that they can better help students. These progress monitoring tools will be customizable, it will even be unique to each student. It gives the ability to have timely data during the school year, so you can make the necessary corrections,” DeSantis said.

If approved, the move would make Florida the first state in the nation to “switch from end of the year assessments to state standards-aligned progress monitoring,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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