Education group: Don’t punish students and teachers based on spring exams

President Biden says, test the students. But states can do so without consequences.

Tampa Bay Times | by Marlen Sokol | March 9, 2021

With high-stakes testing on track in the public schools, a grass-roots education group called Tuesday for the state to hold schools and students harmless in this pandemic year.

The Alliance for Public Schools, joined by school board members and PTA leaders from around the state, called on Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, to include a bill to that affect on the agenda of the Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee that he chairs.

Florida Senate Education Committee Chairman Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, already has expressed support for a companion bill in the Senate.

The Biden administration announced recently that it will not suspend the federal requirement for student testing this year.

“To be successful once schools have re-opened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need,” said a Feb. 22 letter to school leaders from the U.S. Department of Education. “In addition, parents need information on how their children are doing.”

But states are allowed to seek waivers from federal requirements for school accountability, and under those waivers, states would no longer have to test 95 percent of eligible students.

“It will be a considerable challenge to ensure that schools can test 95 percent of students safely in person or to make accommodations for testing e-learners,” the Alliance for Public Schools said in a statement. “Given the uncertainty of the pandemic and the anticipated inconsistent delivery of education this school year, FSA and state test results will be unreliable at best.”

In an interview on Facebook Monday, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said test results are an important way to measure progress.

“We all recognize the value of testing,” he said. “We have to confront the brutal facts. And to know the brutal facts, we have to get some sort of measurement.”

But it is not yet clear what the state will do when the results come in.

“When we get to that point, the results will give us that clear direction of what to do next,” he said. “Our default will always be compassion and grace.”

Gathering Tuesday for a virtual news conference, the group of advocates called on the state to proceed with compassion.

“There was nothing typical about this school year,” said Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, a former teacher and co-sponsor of the bill in the State House.

“Teachers and students lost family members, faced housing and food insecurity, were quarantined, and many students are dealing with mental health issues,” Bartleman said. “Now is not the time to use the state accountability system punitively.”

Melissa Erickson, executive director of the Alliance for Public Schools, said the testing question raises civil rights issues, as marginalized communities are affected disproportionately by the pandemic.

“We are not opposed to the test,” Erickson said. “We are not afraid of tests. We are afraid of using the tests to punish schools, districts and communities.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, she said, parents have worried about testing.

“We have emails and calls from parents who had students in back-to-back quarantines. Or they haven’t seen their teacher in two weeks because their teacher has been quarantined,” Erickson said. ”This is not the way to run schools,” she said, adding that educators “have done the best they can in the circumstances that are provided.”

Photo: Melissa Erickson, executive director of the grass-roots Alliance for Public Schools. [ Handout ]

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