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Florida's New Public-School Test Found Valid

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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – A study has found the state's new standardized test for public-school students is valid, paving the way for the exam to be used in teacher evaluations and school grades, the Florida Department of Education announced Tuesday.

But critics said the controversial Florida Standards Assessment is still deeply flawed, and that the report is not as flattering as the department is portraying it. Lawmakers required the report in legislation passed this spring, following a slew of technical problems and a cyberattack on a computer platform.

"I think that we certainly can take away from this report that the FSA accurately measures the student's knowledge of the Florida standards," Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told reporters on a conference call.

The report's finding that the test is valid allows Stewart's agency to begin using it to calculate school grades and results that are incorporated into teacher evaluations under the state's performance-pay laws. In the bill approved earlier this year, the Legislature put those uses of the test on hold until the study was done. It also lowered from 50 percent to a third the share of a teacher's evaluations tied to student performance.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, seemed to indicate Tuesday that the study settles the issue.

"This validity study, combined with the Legislature's efforts during the 2015 Session to reform student testing, have strengthened our school accountability system. ... The Florida House will continue to support standards and accountability measures that provide our students with a first-rate education and prepare them for success in today's world," Crisafulli said in a statement issued by his office.

The study --- conducted by Alpine Testing Solutions and edCount, LLC --- was not entirely positive. While it supported the use of the Florida Standards Assessment for school grades and teacher evaluations, it said that because of the computer glitches, "the FSA scores for some students will be suspect."

That could include grades on 10th-grade tests that factor into whether students can graduate. Stewart noted that those students are eligible to retake the tests. The study didn't find a problem with pen-and-paper tests, which were used for third-graders, whose performance on the exam can also be a consideration on whether they move to the next grade.

Still, the finding on computer tests was a focus of critics who argued that Stewart and other officials were painting a too-rosy picture of the results.

"This is hardly a blanket confirmation of FSA validity," said Bob Schaeffer, a Florida resident and public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which is critical of high-stakes exams. "The cynical attempt by Tallahassee bureaucrats to 'spin' the story conveniently ignores key evidence.

Instead of protecting Florida's politically mandated tests, it will provide further incentive for parents, teachers, and school administrators to overhaul the state's fundamentally flawed assessment system."

The Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, was also critical.

"Well, we think the report had all kinds of red flags in it that the DOE should be considering," spokesman Mark Pudlow said in an email. "But the department seems to be going full speed ahead with its flawed approach."

The News Service of Florida's Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.


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