FSA Software Problems Delay Statewide Testing

The new computer-based exam was postponed for three days while the state ironed out glitches.

Lizzy Saba, Staff Writer

The word FCAT had been making students cringe ever since the school year of 1998. The Florida Comprehension Assessment Test (also known as FCAT) acted as general placement for high schools. Depending on how well the students did, determined the school’s “overall” grade. The grading scale went from A to F based off of how many students passed the exam and percentage of improvement of students and their exam levels. Now that FCAT is officially non-existent in Florida, the Florida Standard Assessments–or FSA– is here to take over.

As many know, FSA testing was supposed to launch in all school districts Monday morning of March 2, 2015. Suspecting the system might crash, Mrs. Orndorff, Santaluces Academy Director and Testing Coordinator, decided to “opt-out” on Monday to avoid system crashing. Santaluces was to officially start up testing Tuesday, March 3rd, but the district canceled testing due to problems across the state. One Wednesday, testing was canceled too.

“On Monday we were told at 5:26 p.m that we would not be testing Tuesday, and 4:00 p.m yesterday,” said Mrs. Orndorff.

Since the FSAs are a state-wide form of testing, what the state officials say, goes. Testing for 9th graders was scheduled to begin first thing Thursday morning.

“The state paid about 280 million dollars on this platform [FSA testing system] and it’s not even working,” says Orndorff.

The FSA is a brand new exam that will be taken by students from grades three all the way to 10th; in portions- writing, English and math. Difficulty takes a step up in the material of the exam, hoping to challenge the students more. What officials don’t seem to realize is the whole change of layout and format of the exam is difficult enough as it is for students to understand and adapt to, making it harder for students to do well on the test.

School districts warn that they are not ready and parents are furious. Some are actually threatening to boycott against the standardized test. Either way, FSA testing will continue to act as the state test. Third graders are being retained if they fail. High school students can be denied a diploma. And teachers can be penalized with their evaluations depending on the test.

“Anyone in grades eight and below shouldn’t worry about the testing, but of course if you’re in high school I’d take it seriously because it can affect your graduation, and no one wants to be the only one to not graduate,” says Orndorff.

Operation Opt-Out has been a growing phenomenon since testing started in Florida counties.

According news reports across the state, some parents are abandoning the tests and  coached their kids to simply not answer any questions on the test.

 Some school districts are making some arrangements for students to refuse to take the test. Some will be allowed to leave, others will be allowed to bring a book for reading, or even just sit to wait the testing period out without having to participate in it.

The original building blocks of the FSA came from Utah and their new form of Common Core testing. Sadly, last spring the test left every school in that state with a letter grade of a D or an F. The whole state practically flunked.

Critics of testing in Florida say that since Florida has no baseline, it should use Utah as a prime example. But Florida lawmakers say Florida will be setting its own scoring system based off Florida data. The state has not released how passing scores will be determined or what a passing score is.  

Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has been one of the loudest critics of FSA testing.

“We need to question if we have gone too far, too fast,” Carvalho said to a Florida Senate education committee.

Have Florida officials taken this too far, too fast? Maybe. Maybe not. Santaluces students,  like the rest of the state, can only wait until testing results are released this summer.

But even as the trouble with FSA continues, Mrs. Orndorff has some advice for all Chiefs:

“FSA testing will eventually start up again in school districts around April 13th-14th, and it will not be affecting any other testing in school such as the FCAT and EOC retakes that some students will be taking in the upcoming weeks of school.”