FSA testing to begin Monday; some opting out

Posted at 6:49 AM, Feb 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-29 14:19:58-05

The Florida Department of Education has taken steps to avoid a repeat of last year’s computer testing problems, but there’s no guarantee students won’t face issues this year. The first round of new testing for the Florida Standards Assessment is set to start Monday.

Full 2015-2016 FSA Testing Schedule

Plenty of parents are very concerned about this year's testing process. The state said students were required to go online and take practice tests ahead of time. Reviews of the system were put in place to try to avoid some of the issues from last year.

A host of issues plagued last year's FSA testing. Many districts (including Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas and others) were forced to suspend the process due to continued issues.

"Really, we have a testing system that is supposed to be accountable, but it's really not accountable to anyone. It lacks credibility," said parent Frank Lovetere.

Lovetere is one of a number of parents choosing to refuse to let their kids participate. He's opting out of the testing process, protesting the academic weight placed on the FSA along with considering further technical problems.

"We have to change the system the way it works right now. It's not in the best interest of children," Lovetere told ABC Action News.

The Florida Department of Education has stated that the FSA testing company has upgraded their defense against cyber attacks.

Last year's test was not only hit with those tech issues, but an overloaded system as well. Plenty of students were either locked out, or kicked out of the system in the middle of the test.

Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has been outspoken about past problems, however he told ABC Action News that changes have been put in place heading into the testing process this year.

"We were able to have some software systems put in place that will detect, prevent, eliminate those attacks from happening. We've also increased the amount of technology in our schools," said Browning.

The state also required school districts to load their testing devices beforehand to run them through a mock testing session to ensure they're working. Administrators told ABC Action News it's another added measure to catch problems early.

The Florida Department of Education has also said they have installed a delete warning measure to warn students before a large section of text is deleted. Students are also able to review previous saved versions of their responses.

"Because of the things we've put in place, we believe that we're going to be in a much better position than we were from last years administration," Browning told ABC Action News.

The Florida Department of Education also said if large numbers of students at a school do not take the FSA it could impact their school grade and eligible bonus dollars.

Schools need at least 95 percent of its student to take the FSA in order to get a school grade. When schools improve a full school grade or get an "A" they are eligible for School Recognition Dollars. That is bonus money schools receive for performing well and the dollars can pay for school supplies, books, teacher bonuses and more.

School leaders said if parents choose to keep their child home because they are opting out of the test, that is their right. However, they don't recommend it.

"We will follow our procedures and whatever a parent tells their child to do, that's between them and their child," said Dr. Diana Greene, Manatee School Superintendent.

For parents like Lovetere, it's simply not enough.

"To me as a parent, my children are not getting the education that we're paying for. We are taxpayers, and those taxes are used to fund public schools, and they're not listening to us," said Lovetere.

The State Department of Education is sending the message out to students that if they run into any problems with testing, they should report those issues right away. Administrators tell us that's the best way a problem will be corrected.