Florida House panel moves to make some state tests publicly available
Since Florida's public education system relies so heavily on testing, Rep. Randy Fine says, it only makes sense that parents should be able to see what those tests look like.
His bill (HB 549) aims to do just that, creating a rolling three-year schedule to release, at a minimum, the exams for third grade language arts and math, tenth grade language arts and Algebra I. The Legislature requires students to pass three of the four for promotion or graduation.
"So much is driven around these tests," Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, told the House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee. "I think it makes sense for us to know what we're evaluating."
Fine noted that, as it stands, children receive instructions not to repeat the test questions outside of the testing room. (State rules do allow them to discuss the exams with their parents.) When asked by Rep. Kamia Brown, D-Ocoee, whether the state uses the same questions each year, Fine responded, "I can't answer that exactly, because I can't see the test."
Such a lack of transparency makes it difficult for parents to help their children learn from their mistakes, observed Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Royal Palm Beach and a bill cosponsor.
"One of the most important factors we talk about is parental involvement," added Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach. "There is nothing more effective than sitting with your child and talking about what they got wrong. ... (The tests are) a very important tool a parent needs to have in order to help their child through the education process."
Fine mentioned that the state used to release tests so parents could see the questions, but stopped. Vince Verges, Florida assistant deputy commissioner of accountability, explained that the Department of Education ended that system in 2008, largely because of cuts to the state's testing budget.
Prior to that, the DOE released fourth, eighth and tenth grade reading and math tests in 2005; third, seventh and ninth grade reading and math tests in 2006; and fifth and sixth grade reading and math, and eighth grade science, tests in 2007.
Shawn Frost, president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, said his group supports the transparency proposed in the bill. He lamented an amendment that would delay implementation until 2020, to give the state time to develop new tests and questions in advance of the release.
But Frost, an Indian River School Board member, said the problem is severe enough that some parents have already taken matters into their own hands, posting test prompts they learn about from their children onto Facebook and other social media.
"Folks will find a way," Frost said. "When parents are so concerned, this is money well spent to open the tests."
The subcommittee unanimously approved the bill, which still must go before the Education and PreK-12 Appropriations committees. A related Senate bill is scheduled for discussion at an Education Committee workshop Tuesday.