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East County Saturday, Jul. 30, 2022 2 weeks ago

Changes coming to standardized testing in Sarasota and Manatee counties

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With the new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, students will be tested three times per year.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Gone are the days of taking Florida Standard Assessments for English language arts and math at the end of every school year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that eliminated the FSAs for English language arts and math and replaced them with a progress monitoring assessment, which is called Florida Assessment of Student Thinking.  

Progress monitoring will take place three times per year in August and September, January and May to show how a student has progressed throughout the year. 

Laurie Breslin, the executive director of curriculum and assessments for the School District of Manatee County, said the results of the progress monitoring assessments should be available within a week after the assessment.

“We can use those results to drive our instruction moving forward,” she said. “The positive side is we should have better access to the data, faster results, so that if something that we’re doing in the classroom or as a district isn’t proving to be best for students, we have an opportunity to change that mid stride so that we are bringing the best resources, the best instruction to our students.”

Breslin said teachers have been reacting positively to the new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, or BEST, standards as they provide more clarity in expectations. 

Districts rolled out the BEST standards for English language arts in kindergarten through second grade last school year and will roll out the BEST standards in English language arts for grades three through 12 and math for kindergarten through 12 this school year. 

These are the standards students will be tested on in the progress monitoring assessment.

“Teachers are enjoying the way the standards have been written,” Breslin said. “They’re clear and concise, which is exactly what our teachers have been asking for. That allows us to bring that clarity down to the classroom level for students and allows us to bring that clarity forward for parents.”

Breslin said the assessments are designed to be single-day assessments taking half the school day, but the state hasn’t said exactly how long the exams will be.

“It will benefit students who are sitting to take that assessment because they will be required to sit for the assessment for a shorter length of time, which is important, especially when you’re talking about the younger students,” Breslin said. 

Breslin said the progress monitoring assessments also will allow for more communication between teachers and families as teachers can present the data to parents. 

“When we’re able to give parents data on their child and then they’re able to talk to their child about what they see in the data, you just end up with a better system of communication, a better system of what the expectations are and what we need to do to support the student to reach those expectations,” she said.

Kelsey Whealy with Sarasota County Schools said the district is unable to speculate on the impact of the state’s new progress monitoring assessments, but the district already utilizes progress monitoring, among other tools, to track and guide students’ learning, growth and achievement. 

In an April 12 Sarasota County School Board workshop, Amy Beechy, who focuses on instructional strategies and interventions for the district, demonstrated how the district uses its progress monitoring at the elementary level. Teachers are able to track a student’s performance for each foundational skill in subjects such as reading. 

“With this progress monitoring tool, we are able to look at various (subjects) and see how students are performing to ensure we are seeing the full picture of the child and to be able to respond in the way that will best meet the needs,” Beechy said.  

The tool allows for teachers to see whether students are meeting expectations, performing in an area that is not quite needing intervention but should be watched or needing interventions. 

Breslin said the School District of Manatee County already has been doing benchmark assessments to “provide the best instruction” for students. The benchmark assessments were conducted throughout the year similarly to how the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking will be conducted. 

Breslin said the district will continue conducting the benchmark assessments for algebra and geometry because the end-of-course exams for those courses have not changed. The district also will continue the benchmark assessments for science and social studies because there will continue to be Florida Standards Assessments for those courses. 

Breslin said the district will determine whether it will continue the benchmark assessments for English language arts and math after the state provides more details regarding the progress monitoring assessments. 

Whether it’s learning loss as a result of the pandemic or from the summer slide, Breslin said the progress monitoring assessment can shed light on those learning gaps more so teachers are better able to remediate. 

“The important thing to remind parents and teachers as we’re heading into all these changes in the school year is that we continue to provide the best instruction, we continue to teach to the standards using grade level materials that parents can view on our website and review the materials we’re using in their students’ classrooms,” Breslin said. “We are going to continue to do what we’re doing and take advantage of the added data to strengthen what we’re doing.”

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