School board tackles FSA testing misinformation

If your student is opting out of taking a Florida Statewide Assessment exam, emailing the school as notice of that decision is not the accepted way to get an excuse from the exam, according to Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS). 

Jennifer Wise, ACPS executive director of K-12 curriculum, delivered that message at the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) meeting on Tuesday.

Social media posts have been circulating misinformation telling parents that an email will suffice as notice that a student will not be taking an FSA exam.

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“A lot of parents think they can send an email and alert or notify a school that they want their student to opt out or be exempted from state assessment,” Wise said. “We cannot accept a parent email to excuse a student from state testing.”

Many parents are contacting the school district to say their students are not prepared to take the exams due to teacher absences and the deficiencies of distance learning. 

According to the Florida Department of Education website, “The Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) in English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics, and end-of-course (EOC) subjects (Algebra 1 and Geometry) serve Florida students by measuring education gains and progress.”

Dr. Carlee Simon, ACPS superintendent, said the volume of correspondence required public clarification.

“We’ve been receiving quite a few emails regarding the FSA and some parents’ interest in opting out,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting. “So much feedback that we want to make sure there is some clarity of what is an option and what is not.”

Wise said state law mandates that ACPS participate in state assessments and that it is mandatory for all schools and all students. Parents can only opt out their children if there are alternate ways for students to be assessed and move forward to the next grade.

According to Wise, the state requires third graders to earn a two or higher score on the FSA English Language Arts (ELA) in order to move to fourth grade. Absent that, Wise cited a limited number of specific alternatives: qualify for a “good cause exemption,” have an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or 504 plan, be an English language learner, have a complete student portfolio demonstrating mastery of three of the standards, or complete an alternate state-approved assessment. 

“We do indeed have alternatives to state assessment for third graders to demonstrate proficiency for third graders to move on to fourth grade,” Wise said. “For our secondary students there are several courses that have an end-of-course-exams (EOC) such as Algebra, Geometry, U.S History.” 

She advised that parents should call the school to discuss the FSA and warned that opting out of the EOC test could affect grades: “For those students, the end of course exam constitutes 30 percent of their final course grade, so that could impact their GPA.”

Wise said state assessment requirements for graduation include the 10th grade ELA or Algebra 1 EOC test, but there are also alternatives to those tests.

“We do have other tests that can afford students a concordance score,” she said, citing the SAT or ACT or PSAT for math. “They are alternatives, however, we do feel it’s important for students who need it to have as many opportunities to earn those graduation requirements as possible.”

Jennifer Wise speaks at school board meeting

According to Florida Statute 1008.22, which mandates the testing, the FSAs are given to “assess the achievement level and annual learning gains of each student in English Language Arts and mathematics and the achievement level in all other subjects assessed.”

“Principals use data to make decisions on professional development, intervention plans and supplemental material selection and building schedules to meet student needs,” Wise said. “We take that very seriously.”

The results of the FSA exam inform principals and the school district of the progress students are making in grade level standards, Wise said.

“It also ensures that we are teaching grade level standards rigor to our students,” Wise added.

The state extended the testing window for the FSAs for an extra two weeks, so it now runs from April 5 through June 11.

Wise said that if a student is choosing to opt out of taking the FSA exams, the school will still present the test and require the student to sit for that assessment.

“We’re bound to do that,” Wise said. “Students can follow the direction of their parent, and once they have been asked to sit for that session and decline to take the exam, they will not be asked to sit for that session again.”

Wise said she hopes that parents won’t keep their students home for the entire testing window, noting parents can only write a note to excuse a student’s absence for up to six days per semester.

Board member Rob Hyatt said the misinformation has created a difficult situation. 

“Contact your principal,” he urged. “The emphasis here is what the state is requiring and that’s our obligation.”

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