October 26, 2021

Miami-Dade, Broward schools won’t use controversial statewide test

Miami-Dade and Broward won’t use FSA scores to retain third grade students.
Miami-Dade and Broward won’t use FSA scores to retain third grade students. | Miami Herald file

Empowered by a new state law, education leaders in Miami-Dade and Broward counties announced Tuesday they won’t use the results of the new Florida Standards Assessment to hold students back — one of the most polarizing issues when it comes to how Florida uses tests in high-stakes decisions.

“We will not allow the results of one single test to determine the future of our students,” Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said at a news conference.

It’s the latest impact of a new law calling for an independent fairness review of Florida’s new tests. That study won’t be done until September, well after this school year ends and the next one begins.

Without verified test results available, the state will provide districts with lists of the lowest-performing students. Districts can use that information to make decisions about retention but Miami-Dade and Broward say they won’t. Instead, the districts said they will rely on teacher’s grades, and scores on other tests, to decide which students can go on to fourth grade.

As in previous years, students who are identified for retention will have the chance to be promoted based on their performance on make up tests in summer school.

Since 2002, Florida’s third-graders have been required to earn a certain score on standardized tests to avoid the threat of retention, which some research has shown can be as traumatic on students as losing a parent or going blind. Last year, 10,000 students in Miami-Dade and Broward did not make the initial cut to be promoted to fourth grade.

Holmes Elementary teacher Tawana Akins called the district’s move a “great decision.” She teaches an entire class of students who were retained last year. Akins said some of her students cried when faced with the new FSA this year.

“Even at such a young age, they are damaged by a test,” she said.

The announcement came a day after the Florida Department of Education told school superintendents that new end-of-course exams in Algebra I, II and Geometry no longer have to be factored into students final grades.

“I think it is the right, appropriate decision. I just wish we knew about it earlier,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “It is significantly disruptive to schools to go through this and learn this, this late in the year.”

Miami-Dade PTA President Joe Gebara blamed the state for rushing forward with the new tests this year, ignoring please from parents, school boards, teachers unions and superintendents to have a trial-run first.

“What counts? What doesn’t? We don’t know,” said Miami-Dade PTA President Joe Gebara. “It’s utterly disorganized and chaotic … We can’t focus on what our kids really need.”

Students will still have to pass an algebra end of course exam to graduate in Miami-Dade, and Broward will factor the exams into a student’s grade only if it boosts the student’s marks.