Assessment Tests Reprieve

by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly

Educators and students received some much anticipated news last Friday: Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order waiving state assessment test and associated impacts, such as student retentions and schools receiving sagging annual ratings.

“Similar to last year, this Emergency Order protects our high school seniors and empowers local school districts and schools to make the important decisions on graduation, promotion and whether to opt-in to school grades and improvement ratings,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran.

“This is the ultimate flexibility and reinforces the compassion and grace we have used throughout this pandemic in making these decisions. I also want to thank our courageous and dedicated educators and school leaders who have made this school year so successful for our students and local communities.”

This is welcome news in Escambia, where school district officials had sent a letter to Commissioner Corcoran requesting exactly this.

“We requested a waiver of the accountability system for 3rd grade retention, school grades and district grades,” Escambia School District Superintendent Tim Smith told Inweekly last week, a day prior to the commissioner’s emergency order.

As a result of the order, Florida students and schools will not be held to the typical standards tethered to assessment tests. High school seniors will not need to pass the tests to graduate, 3rd graders will not be retained as a result of their performance on the tests and local schools will not be penalized based on students’ collective performance.

This makes sense to Superintendent Smith. This year has presented too many unprecedented challenges: remote learning, mandated quarantines, an unusually high number of absences.

“The validity of a tests, to do it with COVID and compare that with scores from non-COVID years, you’re just — that’s not going to be valid, you’re not going to have reliable data there, that’s just a quantitative reality,” Smith said. “I just think the grades would make a misstatement and I think that could be problematic, because people look to those grades and people form a lot of their perception around schools and school districts based on those grades. And if they’re not valid or reliable, it just seems counterintuitive to me.”

While assessment tests will no longer carry the usual implications, Superintendent Smith said that local students will still be tested. The data from such assessment tests — which was not collected last year due to COVID impacts — is needed to implement measures to improve a student’s or school’s educational trajectory.

“We want it just to see where are our kids, and that will help with figuring out how to adjust and accommodate the needed teaching for next year,” Smith said.

FDOE Emergency Order 2021-EO-02 provides the following:

  • Districts and schools can opt-in, at their discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to school grades or improvement ratings for each individual school.
  • Calculation of learning gains and middle school acceleration for school grades will be based on growth of two school years, rather than one, due to the cancellation of tests in Spring 2020.
  • For districts and schools not opting in, school grades and school improvement ratings would not be automatically calculated and released for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Allows districts and schools flexibility to determine on a case-by-case basis if a senior’s high school record demonstrates a comparable level of achievement to state assessments.
  • Allows districts and schools local discretion to determine promotion and course grade decisions, including courses that require end-of-course (EOC) exams.
  • Provides two types of compassion and grace to high school seniors who are on track, but have yet to earn a Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars, Florida Medallion Scholars, Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars or Florida Gold Seal CAPE Scholars award:
  • Extends deadlines to earn qualifying test scores to December 1, 2021 (ACT, SAT and PERT for Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars); and
  • Forgives volunteer hour requirements for students who intended to complete the service hours prior to graduation, but through no fault of their own had a lack of access to volunteer opportunities.
  • Allows local districts to make decisions regarding the optional use of VAM data as part of the “performance of students” component in a teacher’s evaluation.
  • Provides permission for early learning coalitions to use unspent funds, which would otherwise normally exceed the statutory thresholds allowed for non-direct services, to be utilized as long as these funds are used to provide direct supports to early learning childcare providers.
  • Allows VPK providers, especially school districts with shortened summer periods, to provide no less than 200 hours of summer VPK, suspending the law requiring 300 hours.