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FSA Testing Canceled Until State Can Guarantee Problems Are Fixed

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - School administrators in Miami-Dade and Broward have canceled the computer-based Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) test for grades 8-10 Tuesday, despite Education commissioner Pam Stewart telling superintendents via email that the online tech services have been restored and testing may resume.

Tuesday morning, Stewart said the department worked with the company that provides the testing late into Monday night to correct the problems. Stewart added that the company will continue to monitor the system as testing continues.

Despite the email, however, the issues continued for some districts, leaving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade to stop all testing until the state guarantees that the problems are fixed.

Click here to watch Gary Nelson's report. 

Both Miami-Dade and Broward's superintendents are questioning the test technically and academically and the FSA will not be administered until further notice.

"You would expect for Cadillac prices, Cadillac performance," Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Tuesday.

But Florida's $220 million computer standardized test had glitches not only on Monday, but Tuesday as well.

Carvalho said he is glad he made the decision.

"It's gone too far too fast as I've been saying for a long time and unfortunately that no longer is a cliche. I think, for the second day in a row, the state's inability to guarantee smooth assessment is wreaking havoc across districts," Carvalho said Tuesday. "We've decided to contain it here in Miami-Dade because we respect our teachers and students too much."

Broward is among districts postponing the test.

"We continue to advocate for another year of a waiver and implementation period where there are no consequences for schools, teachers and students," Superintendent Robert Runcie said.

Some students, like Jethel Hernandez, are in a panic. Hernandez said the testing glitches make her even more nervous about a test she says she has to pass.

During Florida's legislative session, which kicked off Tuesday, Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Democrat from Miami said, "We just need to go ahead and suspend the use of that test for this year. It's clearly not ready for prime time."

The Republican speaker of the house, took a different view.  Representative Steve Cristafulli joined the Republican Senate president in saying testing is required to hold teachers and schools accountable.

"We understand that there were a few bumps," Cristafulli said. "Anytime you will out a new program you have something like that."

South Florida school administrators made the decision to cancel testing on Tuesday after technical glitches Monday caused problems across South Florida and the rest of the state. While some schools were not able to log into the online system, others that were able to access the system found that it worked so slowly that it was very difficult to proceed.

In a letter to Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday, state Senators Dwight Bullard and Jeff Clemens called on him to immediately suspend the administration of the tests to allow time for educators to work out the problems. They added that the crippling glitches Monday were not unexpected.

"It was not as if this impending catastrophe came without warning. Superintendents, administrators, and teachers, as well as legislators, from across the state have continued to steadfastly declare that we, as a state, were not ready to handle this testing system. Their pleas were ignored by the Department of Education, which now claims that only a few thousand students were unable to test on March 2. This is such a terrible twisting of the truth as to be almost unbelievable. While only a few thousand students who were able to take the test may have been unable to complete it, hundreds of thousands of students in districts such as Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Leon and over 30 others were completely unable to access the system properly, resulting in total suspension of the testing in many, if not most, counties."

Parents in Miami-Dade received this voice mail from schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho on Monday night.

"Until the state can provide our school system with assurances on the stability of the testing environment for this assessment, specifically for the writing assessment, we are suspending computer based testing for students in these grades," Carvalho said on the voicemail.

The writing based tests for students in grades four through seven will go on as planned.

CLICK HERE to watch Gary Nelson's report

In an email to school district superintendents across the state Tuesday morning, Stewart explained, "The department worked with AIR throughout the day and into the evening yesterday to better understand the issues that affected online testing in Florida on Monday. AIR has determined that a software issue caused log-in issues, including delays and error messages for a number of districts."

Stewart added that AIR and its hosting provider, Rackspace, were working to ensure that service is restored.

"Last night, AIR conducted an additional load test on the hardware that supports FSA and it showed improved performance after the software changes. AIR will continue to monitor server performance throughout the entire FSA testing window.

Districts may begin or resume testing as soon as they desire, and additional guidance will be provided to assessment coordinators shortly."

Students in grades four through 10 who have not taken the writing test still have time to do so.

"This is a 90-minute test; students have a two-week window, plus a makeup window, to complete the test," said education department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters in a statement.

The new tests, which were developed after adopting new education standards, replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCATs).

The FSA test is based on new standards drawn primarily from Common Core standards.

When the FSA was field tested in Utah, more than half of the students failed. Officials said the students struggled because the new standards are much harder.

Those who fail the FSA will have other options to be promoted to the next grade.

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