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Several Florida School Districts Cut (Way) Back On Tests

LA Johnson/NPR

Did you hear that?

It's the sound of hundreds of thousands of public school students in Florida breathing sighs of relief.

The state's largest school district, Miami-Dade County, just cut the number of district-created, end-of-course exams it will require from roughly 300 to 10. And even those 10 will be field-tested only, on just a sampling of students.

Meanwhile, Broward County, the state's second-largest district, will cut out all district-created finals — 1,300 of them.

If you're wondering why public school districts ever administered so many standardized assessments in the first place, read on.

Across the country, testing season is upon us. And with it, this year, has come a robust debate over whether students are taking too many high-stakes tests.

Under the federal law known as No Child Left Behind, states are required to administer annual tests in math and reading in grades 3 to 8 plus once in high school.

But a survey last year by the Council of the Great City Schools found that the vast majority of standardized tests are imposed by districts and states over and above those federal requirements.

The moves in Miami-Dade and Broward come in response to a law signed this month by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. It cut Florida's 11th-grade English exam, limited the amount of time students can spend on tests and removed a requirement that local school districts create their own exams for every subject, in every grade, not covered by a state assessment.

These tests were meant to be used to evaluate teachers. Now educators will be judged, at least in part, on students' reading scores.

The new message to schools: "All districts have the flexibility to test their students on the Florida Standards that aren't measured by statewide assessments in a way that best meets the needs of their students," said Meghan Collins, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties wasted no time responding to that new "flexibility" by throwing out their tests. Other districts in the state are following suit.

"This announcement should come as welcome news to everyone who recognizes that too much testing deprives our students of valuable instruction time," Alberto M. Carvalho, superintendent of schools in Miami-Dade, told NPR Ed. "In making these decisions, we've taken a logical and responsible approach to address the concerns of students, teachers and parents."

The testing "opt-out" movement hasn't posted the same kinds of numbers in Florida as it has in, say, New York, but it's still a presence in the debate. The Miami Herald reported that Gov. Scott's testing rollback was in direct response to parent concerns.

Are activists claiming victory? Yes and no.

"I think it's a step in a better direction," says Ceresta Smith, a 23-year veteran teacher and leader of United Opt Out National, who is based in Miami.

Still, she says, this state move has no bearing on federal requirements that have been the driving force behind high-stakes testing.

"You still have students stamped as failures and school communities stamped as failing, which doesn't address the problem that we really are facing," Smith says. "It's a problem of poverty and resource allocation. Nothing has changed on that level."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.