Seminole County Superintendent of Schools Walt Griffin suggested several years ago that Florida scrap the homemade exams in English language arts and math that it uses for federal accountability purposes at the high school level and just adopt the ACT – which about four-fifths of the state’s high school students take anyway – or the SAT.
Fortunately, that suggestion has refused to die. This legislative session, it lived on in several proposals. Bill Montford’s SB 964, which proposed many significant changes to Florida’s testing and accountability system, included the option to use the ACT or SAT immediately. The more, uh, conservative “Fewer/Better Tests” proposal (which in its original form that persists in the House would result in neither fewer nor better tests) calls for a study of whether the ACT and SAT properly align with the Florida Standards.
Strictly speaking, the answer to the alignment question is almost certainly no. The Florida Standards, while based on the Common Core, were altered in consultation with content area experts selected by the state. There is no reason to expect 100% alignment. So if the people performing the study want to maintain Florida’s present high school testing program (for whatever reason – maybe to keep a certain number of psychometricians employed) then they will have the opportunity to do so.
However, the whole concern about alignment is hypocritical. In 2007-2008, the Florida Department of Education convened a committee of scientists and science educators to write new K-12 science standards for the state. I was one of the members of that committee. We were under the impression that the state’s high school science assessment for federal accountability purposes would be based on the standards on physical sciences, Earth/space sciences and life sciences that the committee wrote (and the State Board of Education ultimately approved) for grades 9-12.
We were wrong.
Instead of developing an assessment for high school students that covered all three of those content areas, Florida’s policy-makers decided to use the Biology end-of-course exam as the high school science assessment for federal accountability purposes. Two out of the three content areas – physical sciences and Earth/space sciences – were unceremoniously dropped.
Other states made different decisions, and the results of those decisions showed that Florida’s biology-only decision was consequential. The homemade high school science exams that Georgia and Nebraska wrote included all three content areas. The high school physics-taking rates in both states are more than twice that in Florida.
What the history of Florida’s high school science standards shows is that the concern about whether the ACT or SAT are aligned with Florida Standards is just so much hemming and hawing for show. The legislature could decide today to adopt the frameworks for the ACT as Florida’s new standards and ditch the state’s own high school tests for good. That would include the 10th grade FSA English language arts test, all of the math end-of-course exams (Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2) and – best of all – the Biology end-of-course exam since the ACT includes a science section.
There would be all sorts of advantages in adopting the ACT. To begin with, it would eliminate duplicate testing for four-fifths of Florida’s high schools students. Florida parents and voters would be able to see in a transparent way how well the state’s students are doing compared to their competitors in other states (it’s not particularly pretty, by the way – look here).
And since the ACT science section covers physical sciences, Earth/space sciences and life sciences, it would actually do a much better job of testing Florida’s science standards than our state’s present high school science test – the Biology end-of-course exam.
Florida’s Legislature should just stop screwing around, make the ACT the state’s high school exam for federal accountability purposes and ditch its present high school tests.