TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis said he plans to get rid of the Florida Standards Assessments, the state’s standardized math and reading tests at a Tuesday press conference in Doral. He later made a similar appearance and announcement in Clearwater later in the afternoon.
The governor said he was crafting new legislation that will phase out FSA testing during the 2022-23 school year, ending what’s known as high-stakes testing in Florida’s public schools.
Instead, educators will use progress monitoring to evaluate students’ performance. The new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking plan, or F.A.S.T. Plan, will use student monitoring to “foster individual growth,” according to a governor’s office press release.
“We will continue to set high standards but we also have to recognize it is the year 2021 and the FSA is quite frankly outdated,” DeSantis said. “There will be 75% less time for testing which will mean more time for learning.”
Over the next few weeks, state lawmakers will be working on drafting new legislation to enact the progress monitoring plan and how to implement changes to remove the FSA for the 2022 to 2023 school year.
Going forward, DeSantis said “They will not do the traditional grading, there will be a year to set the baseline, and then the following year we will go forward with the grade.”
The governor said it will be one of the top priorities of the next legislative session.
“I think that this is something that will make a really really big difference, I think it’ll be something friendly to parents, DeSantis said. “I think it’ll be something teachers will appreciate because they’ll be able to make adjustments and really focus on the unique needs of each individual students.”
Progress monitoring explained by teachers, parents
To help the public “understand the potential,” DeSantis had several teachers speak.
First to speak was Sarah Hall, a teacher for 19 years, and the 2020 Seminole County Public Schools teacher of the year. Ms. Hall is a teacher at Longwood Elementary School.
“For the first 17 years of my career I taught primarily a kindergarten and first grade classroom, which are non-FSA testing grades,” Hall said. “I relied solely on progress monitoring data, to be able to meet the individualized needs of my students. By analyzing their data and being able to provide targeted, individualized interventions in a timely manner to be able to mitigate student achievement gaps.
Hall said the progress monitoring was released in snapshots throughout the school year. By using those snapshots, Hall said she could meet the individual needs of students, including those with learning deficits, but was able to provide “meaningful enrichment” too.
“The best part is, is that with this data, I was able to not only intervene in a timely manner, but we had more focused, more precise projections for student achievement, which led to zero caregiver surprises,” Hall said. “Progress monitoring has made a significant impact in my classroom and this will lead to better student success.”
Next to speak was Cristina AuCoin, a Doral Academy Preparatory School Special Education Teacher, who explained the more benefits of the progress monitoring system, and how it’s used at Doral Academy.
“Progress monitoring is individualized, and is 100% targeted to that student, especially in the field that I work in which is the Individualized Education Plan. Here at Doral, we provide a rigorous and challenging curriculum, for all of our students,” AuCoin said. “We ask their very best, to put forth their maximum effort, but we also provide those tools, those resources those support needed for them to meet those high expectations.”
AuCoin said that Doral students, even those with disabilities, are able to meet the high educational expectations set at the school, and have gone on to be accepted at universities such as the Savannah College of Art and Design, Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the University of Central Florida. AuCoin mentioned one student, with autism and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, who started at the Academy while in middle school.
“It was an extremely distracting student but with again the support of myself, the EEC department, the program counselors, the administration which offers amazing support and in conjunction with working with the families, we were able to provide those skills the support so he can manage and he can focus and go on to high school to participate in honors classes and ap courses, take ap classes, as we ll as get those credits, gain those credits for the univeristy,” AuCoin said.
She said there were hundreds of similar stories at Doral Academy, even just in the seven years she’s taught there. AuCoin says that the system they use has helped students to show their true potential and to tap into and unlock their potential, even going past what students thought they would be capable of on their own.
A parent of a Doral student, Alexandra Alonzo, talked ab out how the current FSA system has stressed students and teachers alike.
“As a parent, I have personally seen the pressure and the stress that the students experience due to the yearlong preparation for the FSA. This pressure is only exacerbated during the FSA testing days and as it approaches the testing week. Having family members who are also teachers, they have also shared with me the pressures from an educator’s perspective,” Alonzo said. “The day-to-day curriculum is already challenging enough for our kids. I agree with eliminating the FSA so that students can really learn ,and teachers can continue to teach. Accountability for schools will always be in place, with other metrics and continuous progressive monitoring will shape the framework for continued student success.”
Government action, legislative plans
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran was enthusiastic for the newly announced program as he detailed his frustrations with the current system, beginning with his and Gov. DeSantis’s approach to running the Dept. of Education, and how COVID-19 pandemic actually helped make the problems with FSA more of a priority.
“For two and a a half years, working for this governor, when I first took this job, he said basically one thing: Whatever you do, everything decision policy whatever we work on, make sure that we put students front and center, what is the best thing for a student. and you see it, whether its finding more money for teachers, eliminating common core, and now ending the FSA, and basically you’ve heard a lot of the comments made by teachers and the parent and the governor,” Corcoran said. “But this is a huge victory for the school system. I call this V-Day, because you’re taking, basically from April and May , we basically shut down schools for testing. and we noticed this when we had, unfortunately one of the silver linings of COVID was when we shut down the schools and we got rid of the FSA for the remainder of the school year.”
Corcoran said the silver lining was that the state noticed problems with the “antiquated” FSA system and algorithms, but looking at the progress monitoring performed in every school district. He said by using the progress monitoring data, the state can have the same accountability expected for education standards and protect “what has been absolutely instrumental.”
“Before we were in the bottom five, now we’re number three in the nation,” Corcoran said. “So, who benefits the most are your low-income kids, your minority kids, children with unique abilities. Those are the folks who have benefited from our accountability system.”
Still Corcoran said the next step was answering how to help students and their families and teachers to improve learning outcomes in the state.
“When you eliminate or reduce testing, guess what happens?” Corcoran said. “That’s more teaching, and more teaching means you’re giving those kids a better education, and they’re going to be able to go out there and be great citizens and live a great life.”
Corcoran said the old system’s problems with data returns and analysis made the FSA essentially an educational post-mortem.
“I think it’s going to be transformative, how our children learn, how our parents now have…we always say the FSA is an autopsy, we basically wait at the end of the year, we have this autopsy, and we don’t even have the data until the beginning of the next year,” Corcoran said. “Now what we have is a diagnostic system.”
Corcoran said the new approach, using the progressive monitoring data would make use of systems in place in every school district, and would give parents, teachers and students better outcomes and better educational tools. He said the change, once implemented would let the state “transform our educational environment.”
The governor was equally enthusiastic about what the new program would mean to the state’s educational success, but also focused on what it would mean for students, teachers and parents in their everyday experiences with schooling.
“I think that if you look at what we’re doing, this is going to be more student friendly, this is going to be more parent friendly, and this is going to be more teacher friendly,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to be able to more accurately measure progress in this way, but do it in a way that’s more friendly and sensible for everybody involved and this is a big deal. This will be a big part of what we’re trying to do next legislative session, I think we’re going to get a lot of support for it, and I’m confident we’re going to get it done.”
DeSantis’ enthusiasm, education costs, Q&A
DeSantis said the changes build on the successes the Florida Dept. of Education has had over the last two-and-a-half years, including the recent teacher bonuses for principals and educators who have worked during the pandemic.
“In the most recent legislative session, we were happy to be able to provide $1,000 bonuses for all teachers and principals, they worked really hard last year and they deserved it. That also builds off the initiative we had to increase, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase, in the average minimum salary for school teachers,” DeSantis said.
While the governor said the changes to minimum salaries moved Florida from the bottom 25 state rankings to the Top 10, or possibly Top 5, salary changes still have not matched the minimum levels that were made law last summer.
The new law, signed in June 2020, was supposed to make the minimum teacher salary $47,500 for all full-time teachers. Despite that change, some Florida counties still pay their teachers less. DeSantis said the increased salary was designed to draw in new talent for Florida’s education system.
Still, multiple counties pay less than the $47,500 minimum. Sometimes far less, by thousands of dollars. In fact, 27 Florida counties have an average salary lower than the minimum required by the state, according to data from the Florida DOE.
“The bottom line is we’ve understood the need to try to attract the really bright young people to go into this profession,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis extolled the changes made to the school curriculum, with focuses on civics, American history, and the recently announced civics boot camp for teachers, where those who complete the program earn a $3,000 bonus. He also mentioned a renewed effort to promote vocational training and education and skills-based education in high schools, rather than “going a dime in debt.”
For Florida universities, the average tuition of a four-year degree is currently $45,560, based on the State University System of Florida‘s cost of attendance data for the 2021-2022 school year. One year, for fall and spring semesters, is expected to cost $11,390.
“My thing is we want people to have opportunities to follow their dreams, but we should not tell students that the only way you can succeed is by going to a four-year brick and ivy university because it’s not true, DeSantis said. “Students are succeeding in a variety of other ways if they have skills, and they’re able to acquire skills in ways that are cheaper in many cases and more effective for them. There should be no stigma about people that are going into some of these professions because they’re very productive folks and they do quite well.”
DeSantis ciriticized the amount of debt students face while engaging in higher education at universities, onlhy to have a job where they don’t even use the degree they earned, where the “debt weighs them down.”
While the push for vocational training and education has the potential to solve some career and economic issues, the cost of a degree to become a fully-certified teacher in Florida still requires at least a bachelor’s degree, or a traditional four-year university education, plus certification from a state-approved teacher education program.
Taking questions, DeSantis addressed the strategy for drafting the legislation for the change over the coming weeks. He said leadership in the Florida House and Florida Senate were on board, and that they’ve gotten good feedback from superintendents and others about the plan.
Questions turn to COVID-19
Responding to a question about COVID-19, DeSantis said the state was seeing “big declines” in case trends and pediatric hospitalizations, which have been higher in recent weeks. He said 65 of the state’s 67 school districts were seeing declines “regardless of intervention.”
Taking a shot at mandates and their results, DeSantis again said that like in 2020, the state was not seeing results directly as a result of masking or other restrictions. Instead, DeSantis said the state push for “early treatment” and using monoclonal antibodies was a reason for the changing outcomes and lowered trend of cases.
The most recent state COVID-19 data releases from the Florida Department of Health showed that case numbers over the past two weeks had started to trend downward, and vaccinations had been increasing.
However, the latest report showed that while cases had dropped again, the number of vaccinations had also decreased. Still, DeSantis says he’s happy that they’re seeing declining admissions for COVID-19 “across the board” and “in school district after school district.”
DeSantis says the data has been “overwhelming” and that delta has not changed and more people are getting infected, but children are not seeing much severity and are the lowest risk cohort. He said prioritizing kids in schools was the right decision.
“You’re much less likely to be hsopitalized or die if you’ve been vaccinated,” DeSantis said. “If you look, I think the hospitalizations skew four-to-one in favor of people who are unvaccinated. Which is really understating the difference because most people are vaccinated.”
In Florida, the most recent data from the DOH shows that 69% of residents in the state were vaccinated. The bulk of those vaccinations occurred in those 65 or older, making up the largest group of vaccinated Floridians. Those 60 to 64-years-old are the smallest group of vaccinated residents, as of the report published on Sept. 10, 2021.
Responding to potential changes of cost from the new educational system, both DeSantis and Corcoran said they believe it will lower costs, due to the reduced labor requirements from not having to administer the tests. The governor also criticized the belief that schools were a source of community spread of COVID-19, and said parents should rest assured that schools will stay open in Florida, as other states close schools while the delta variant spreads.
Answering a final question, DeSantis weighed in on the federal right to mandate COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, following up on his promise on Monday to fight the White House over their most recent orders on COVID. Talking about the COVID-19 vaccines and their efficacies, DeSantis criticized case count trends across the nation.
“The COVID vaccine has not blunted transmission, we obviously hoped it would, but I think you see the case counts, it’s doing it, so the function of it is different, and I’d also say there’s a radical difference between the threat that measles, mumps, or rubella would apply to school children, versus what COVID does. Fortunately, and the statistics bear this out, a normal kindergarten, i mean absent serious health needs but a normal kindergarten, unvaccinated, is at less risk of COVID than a vaccinated adult. so they are very low risk. so it’s a much different calculation in that respect.”
Still, the governor noted that the vaccine helps reduce severity and risk of COVID-19 infections and symptoms.