EDITORIAL: Gov. Rick Scott needs to step up on standardized test problems

With Florida awaiting education reform in K-12 schools, the days of students stressfully filling in bubbles under a timer as much as they do now could soon be a thing of the past. 

Last week, with the release of a new report by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on standardized testing, Gov. Rick Scott announced that he thinks the state’s public school students are taking too many tests, and went so far as to make an executive order that marks the end of the 11th grade test for English Language Arts, as a Washington Post article reported

While Scott’s move was good in the sense that it’s a start to eliminating the focus on standardized testing in K-12 education, it wasn’t good enough. Though he plans on later tackling the issue with a more comprehensive plan, the “immediate relief” he wanted to give with his executive order should have been more encompassing. 

President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, which funds schools based on their testing outcomes, and Scott’s teacher merit-pay system encourage the frenzy of standardized testing to prove if students are actually learning. 

Stewart’s study revealed that students in over half of Florida’s school districts take at least five assessments per grade during the school year. As the article mentioned, Duval County elementary students take as many as 14 tests.

It isn’t just a problem of frequency, though. For years, standardized testing has been criticized for posing a disadvantage to minority students, for turning teaching into a profession of test preparation and for fostering a “one-size-fits-all” approach to curriculum that doesn’t address students’ individual skills. 

While the study indicated that students are tested more in high school than in other grades, Scott made a small dent into a larger problem by eliminating one 11th grade test. 

His reasoning falls back on the study, which determined that the particular test isn’t necessary since students are expected to earn their English requirement with a different test in 10th grade.

If that wasn’t already redundant, another one of Stewart’s recommendations that Scott did not create legislation for was to get rid of local final exams in subjects that also require students to take a statewide final, such as Geometry and U.S. History, according to the article.

Yet another measure the study noted, and one that Scott has not yet addressed, is to give only one school- or district-wide interim assessment for each course during a grading period to check student progress.

Student progress, in an ideal world, should be the only thing standardized tests measure. That’s why the Board of Education’s Vice Chairman John Padget told Florida Keys news outlet Keys Net it’s a bad idea to cut the 11th grade test because it will give diplomas to those with “10th-grade reading abilities.”

However, this suggests that learning can’t happen if students aren’t tested.  

It’s unknown which route Scott will take in considering a change. But given the problems at hand, his decision will majorly affect both teachers and students. Based on the small step he already made, hopefully his solution will make K-12 a less rigorous testing environment, where the focus on learning isn’t watered down by the incentive of test scores.