ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a speech at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. The event was a day after the legislative session, where a number of state education priorities were passed in both chambers of the Florida Legislature. The podium used at the event carried a sign reading “Florida: The Education State.”
“If you look at all that we’ve done in education over the last three years, four years, it’s been huge, over this session, there are things being done that nobody’s even noticed,” DeSantis said. He mentioned a series of parents, teachers and other school officials who were present for the “momentous bill signing” event.
“Today, we come to not praise the FSA but to bury it,” DeSantis said. “We are here today with legislative leaders to eliminate the FSA from the state of Florida. Six months ago I announced a legislative proposal to replace the FSA with progress monitoring. Instead of having one major test at the very end of the year, which provided no feedback to students before the summer came, we would do progress monitoring that would monitor progress through the school year. It would be shorter, it would be individualized, it would provide good feedback for students, for teachers and for parents.”
He thanked Commissioner Richard Corcoran for leading the effort to change standardized testing in Florida.
“This type of assessment was much more effective than kind of the big ‘study for weeks, all the marbles on the last test’ and then kind of adjourn for the summer,” DeSantis said. “So, we think this is going to be an improvement in the state of Florida. We needed some tool to be able to assess, and we do believe in accountability. It’s important to have high standards.
The governor said at the same time, with the new system in place, the state will be able to get the same information as the FSA gave, but faster and in a way that “provides quick feedback” for parents, teachers and students, while allowing the parents to be more involved with remediation for students, if needed.
Part of the issue, according to DeSantis, was that FSA results would come after the school year ended, not allowing for remediation or correction during school times. He said the FSA did not allow teachers and parents to even have the conversations on what students would need, or what would be best for their child’s education.
“By eliminating FSA and transitioning to progress monitoring, we are really going to help bolster the conversations between parents and teachers so they can work together to make sure our kids succeed,” DeSantis said.
Going forward, state law will require test results be provided to teachers within a week and parents within two weeks, to allow “real time intervention before it’s too late.” There will be three opportunities during the school year for check-ins, with the results to come in the deadlines created for result sharing.
“This school year, the class of 2022, everyone in 2022 spring, this will be the last time the FSA is administered in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “Next year, Florida will become the first state in the nation to do a full transition to progress monitoring to inform school accountability. The 2022-2023 school year will serve as a new baseline for school accountability. A ‘hold harmless’ transition year, and school grades will resume the following year.”
He said this would help maintain accountability systems and help students grow while closing achievement gaps in the state, continuing the work of the past two decades in Florida’s educational system.
At the high school, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1048 into law. The bill, now law, changes Florida’s education standards from the Florida Standards Assessment to the new progress-monitoring system, called “Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking.”
Among the changes highlighted in the new testing and educational standards, the progress monitoring system uses hours-long, rather than “days” long tests to administer to students and provides “three opportunities to check-in on growth” during the school year. The governor mentioned that according to Education Week rankings, Florida was number three for K-12 achievement. He said it was due to the changes made over the past few years.
“We’ve done things like take bold moves to eliminate common core and replace them with world-class B.E.S.T. standards, which was devised under Department of Education supervision. We have invested in our educators, raising the minimum teacher pay to one of the highest levels in the nation, and if you look at what we did in the most recent budget, we will have over $2 billion in compensation increases for teachers in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
The governor also reiterated his support for previous policy changes during COVID-19, where the state did not require lockdowns for schools, instead encouraging in-person learning and criticizing other areas of the United States for doing “immense damage” to students.
“You know where that damage is focused on? It’s focusing on low and working class families. The wealthy students’ families who were doing Zoom, part of the laptop class, they would bring in tutors, they’d send their kids to private schools,” DeSantis said. “You actually had lockdown governors and local officials would lockdown schools and then send their own kids in person to private schools. And that is wrong. So we made sure that all students in Florida had the opportunity to do that, we’re much better off for it.”
The governor said Florida would also “double-down” on early learning and literacy initiatives, such as the state’s book delivery program. He said those programs and efforts would continue. Then he introduced the Florida Speaker of the House to speak about the legislation.
“Our Florida state colleges are leading the way in workforce education, and right here in Pinellas County, St. Pete College, is the tip of that spear,” Chris Sprowls (R-Pinellas) said. “One thing I want to mention, the governor said that Florida is number three in the nation in K12 student achievement. Most individuals, most states that rise to that level of recognition kind of lay off the gas.”
Sprowls said while some areas choose to maintain their level instead of continuing to push for higher quality and achievement, Florida would push, for the state’s families and students.
“This bill is about parents and kids,” Sprowls said. “Taking away the stress of a one-size fits all test, making sure that we’re monitoring children throughout the course of the school year and most importantly, that parents can react to the information. Isn’t that what we all want as parents?”
He said the bill would give parents the information they need to allow direct parental efforts to improve their child’s learning outcomes.
Parents at the event praised the new bill, and how it would help them help their students, and the changes to the current testing schedule. Laney Gibney, a foster mother of two daughters and a social worker, spoke.
The governor was also joined by outgoing Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. The education commissioner announced an April resignation on March 10.
“Right now, kids have to take a two-day test at the end of every year. We as parents don’t get those results until well into the summer, which is too late to support any deficits, and help our children wherever they may need it,” Gibney said. “As a mother to foster children, I can attest that the current testing schedule and environment negatively impacts children’s self-esteem, mental health, and access to academic support.”
She said children are told to get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast and get in the right mindset for testing. Gibney said those are luxuries that not all children have access to.
“The FSA is only set up for high-performing and exceptionally supported students. But what about those students who are average, or even struggling?” Gibney asked. “What about students like my children, who had substantial barriers early in their childhood education? When I heard that our state was changing to a new system that reduces anxiety and stress that school children face, I was thrilled.”
Teachers at the event said the new system would help students by providing positive reinforcement while letting them tailor lessons to students’ individual needs. Corcoran also spoke, reiterating the positive effort the state says progress monitoring will have on Florida’s students going forward.
“It’s a great day, the governor is dead on,” Corcoran said. “One of the silver linings, if there was a silver lining to COVID, is we had to cancel testing when COVID hit, and then we were looking at the data and poring over it with the governor and what we saw is that the progress monitoring that did not cease for those students was just as enlightening to us on where those students were and what they needed to do as this very elaborate, laborious FSA.”
Corcoran said that was the start of the progress monitoring decision. He said accountability has changed so much in Florida, and the least fortunate are elevated the most thanks to the changes in the state, he called them “those with the least voice.”
“Now you’re getting something that’s fairer to teachers,” Corcoran said. “Now the teachers are getting that real-time data throughout the year. It’s much more helpful to parents, and most importantly it’s beneficial to students.”
Now that DeSantis has signed SB 1048 into law, the changes will take effect on July 1, making the upcoming school year be the first to have the new testing system in place. Regarding the cost of the change to progress monitoring, DeSantis said it would be about $15 million, but that the budget for it was not “eye popping” and it was fully funded in the upcoming fiscal budget.