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OPINION: New FAST testing is the future of K-12 student assessments

A new form of testing to replace the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) has the potential to let teachers and students learn more and stress less in the next school year. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/PXHERE

Florida plans to replace the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) with a different system to monitor student progress periodically, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Sept. 14 at a press conference. This new test, the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST), will periodically assess student performance throughout the school year.

FAST has the potential to let students and teachers alike focus more on valuable education and classroom time through periodic measurement compared to standardized testing at the end of a school year, which is a phenomenal improvement in monitoring and supporting K-12 students’ educations.

FSA testing currently has students in grades three through 10 taking the English Language Arts FSA, with grades three to eight taking the Mathematics FSA. Testing will continue this year but will be completely tossed out in fall 2022.

These final examinations bring stress to students and teachers alike while also altering schedules and taking away time in the classroom. 

The Florida Education Association (FEA), which represents 15,000 educators and is the largest teachers union in the state, supported the governor’s decision in a statement Sept. 14. 

“A student’s future shouldn’t hang on one high-stakes, make-or-break test, and one test shouldn’t dominate weeks that could otherwise be used for meaningful instruction,” said FEA President Andrew Spar.

The new form of measurement will include recurring FAST tests in the fall, winter and spring, though it will have to pass through the Florida Legislature in March 2022.

Similarly structured assessment testing to FAST testing has been proven to work in a student’s favor. Researchers from Brigham Young University studied students’ performances on nine exams over a period of five months, according to an April 2021 journal article. Shorter tests taken more frequently gave students higher scores on high-order questions, leading to a 15% increase in retention scores, equivalent to shifting from a D to a B-.

There’s still hesitancy with the replacement and how long it might take for real change to occur within Florida schools. The FAST plan will also be the first of its kind in the U.S. to utilize progress monitoring over standardized testing at the end of the school year, according to the press release. 

But the state tested FAST’s efficacy at High Point Elementary School in Clearwater. The school, attended by many children from low-income households who produce low FSA test scores, went from a D to a C school last academic year with shorter and more frequent testing. 

Though middle and high school students haven’t experienced FAST testing yet, it will undoubtedly appeal to them as they look to join higher level Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and want to chart their progress over the academic year before joining these rigorous programs.

FAST has the potential to better measure student performance while also giving them room each year to learn and grow.