Common Core and Florida: Tests, Security and Changing Standards

By Joshua Hassell, CEI Intern

Florida, historically a leader in educational reform, might have slightly different concerns about Common Core than many of its detractors expected. Florida adopted Common Core standards in 2013 after some minor changes by Governor Rick Scott, and these standards were  fully implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.

UntitledAfter this implementation, Florida’s rating as a state stayed constant as a “B+” based on the National Council for Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) 2014 report. However, other educational reviews were significantly more mixed. According to the 2015 Education Week: Education Counts poll Florida rates a “C” and has fallen from top-10 status to 28th in the nation. As such, it is difficult to gauge whether or not Florida’s Common Core implementation has been successful or unsuccessful in its first year. Since test results for the newly created Florida State Assessment (FSA) will not be available until early September at the earliest, it will be difficult to quantify any meaningful shift in Florida’s education until they are released. However, Florida’s first year of Common core implementation has demonstrated a few significant issues that must be addressed in order to have a successful change to Common Core standards.

Of Tests and DoS. One of the major complaints during the Common Core implementation in Florida was the inability of students to connect to the FSA’s electronic servers. Many students attempting to take the computerized writing test described being, “ to log into the exam at all. Others had to wait and wait and wait for the exam to load. Some students even managed to begin the test, only to lose their answers later” (O’Connor, 2015). While this issue with the test servers only caused minor delays in most districts, it also presented a different problem: Some students were able to log-in to the test and read the questions while others were not able. In total, only 60% of those slated to take the computerized writing test completed the examination. This could heavily skew results due to the fairly low response rate. These problems continued to plague Floridian students throughout the testing process, even after the initial glitch was supposedly resolved.

Additionally, Florida test provider American Institutes for Research suffered a Denial of Service (DoS) attack that prevented students from accessing tests for days. These sorts of attacks are not difficult to create and could last as long as 8 hours and cost as little as $40. Additionally, these DoS attacks have had tangible results in other states forcing Kansas to nullify test results due to a DoS attack. Additionally, although DoS attacks are easy to implement it is incredibly difficult to track down the source of a DoS attack, and thus it is almost impossible to prosecute the individual or group of individual’s responsible for the attack, Furthermore, it is unknown how much, if any, of the AIR’s testing data was compromised by the attack. However, widespread protest caused by both the DoS attack and connectivity issues has resulted in a statewide protest to suspend funding penalties based on test results, although the state senate has yet to vote on such measures.

Teachers and Students Divided. While technology in Common Core assessments produced statewide protest, response from Florida’s teachers and students to the actual changes in classroom education are far more mixed. Some teachers, like Palm Beach middle school math teacher Vince Rogers, are against the new standards stating that they are removed from reality as they consist of “teaching sixth grade math skills like box and whisker plots and interquartile range…The reality is that most people will never use that in their real life.” Additionally, Rogers is concerned with the pace of Common Core as he is teaching a new skill method or problem every day and is doubtful that his students have time to effectively process and master the new information. Some students, like Natasha Benzadon, seem to agree as Benzadon complains, “Now they are teaching with models that I really don’t understand the lesson.”  Other students, like fourth grader Sydney Smoot, speak out not only against Common Core standards but against standardized testing as a whole.

However, other students and teachers see Common Core standards as just more of the same Florida standards they had already become used to. Miami fifth-grader Owen Robson disputes Benzadon’s claims of increased difficulty stating, “It was about the same. There were about the same questions.” Robson’s remarks paint a different picture than those of Benzadon and Smoot and indicate that while its initial implementation may have been flawed, Common Core may have a place in Florida’s education system after all.

References

NCTQ (2014). State policy findings: Florida. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/statePolicy/2014/statePolicyFindings.do?stateId=10

Education Week (2015). Quality Counts introduces new state report card; US earns C and Massachusetts ranks first in nation. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/media/qualitycounts2015_release.pdf

O’Connor, J (2015, March 9). NPR- State Impact. Five questions about Florida’s testing problems. Retrieved from http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2015/03/09/five-questions-about-floridas-testing-problems/

Travis, S and Yi, K. (2015, April 20). FSA testing to resume Tuesday after delay caused by computer problems, schools say. Sun Sintinel. Retrieved from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/education/fl-assessment-test-suspended-20150420-story.html

Solochek, J.S. (2015, March 12). Florida schools not the only victim of “disruption of service” attacks. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/testing/florida-schools-not-the-only-victim-of-disruption-of-service-attacks/2221148

O’Connor, J. (2015, June 21). Florida’s new school standards both “successful” and a “disaste.r”. NPR- State Impact. Retrieved from http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2015/06/21/floridas-new-school-standards-both-successful-and-disaster/

Smoot, S. (2015, March 18). Fourth grade student sounds off on state testing. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogBuz4dU5Ew

 


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