Overtesting is costing too much and could be causing Florida's performance to stagnate on the national level, according to a new report released this week from a state school board member and a prominent researcher on national education.
Using data pulled from the Florida Department of Education, Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds and researcher and InfiLaw Academic Affairs team member Adam Cota estimate that schools will spend around 10 percent of class time testing, and each Florida student will spend around a full school year testing before graduating high school.
Lost testing time comes with a hefty price tag, too: the new report found districts and the state will spend roughly $2 billion in lost instructional time.
Donalds and Cota believe the biggest source of lost time was the loss of focus at the end of the year after high-stakes assessment tests have already been given. Because assessment scores are nearly 50 percent of teacher evaluations and hence are a primary focus in the classroom, the report says it's predictable that teachers and students lose steam academically and may kick back and relax after the assessments are complete.
The report estimates the average student spends around 17 days taking tests.
"I would really like to see the state and local districts face the reality surrounding the administration of these tests and the time it's taking away from classroom instruction," Donalds told Sunshine State News.
The Florida Department of Education doesn't necessarily disagree -- they say they don't want there to be time wasted associated with testing.
"Obviously, our recommendation is that schools should be continuing instructional time," said FDOE Communications Director Meghan Collins. "Even though some kids are testing, the rest of the kids should still be learning. We want it to be very clear you should not [be losing] instructional time either."
Using a variable cost of around $47 a day per student spent preparing for and taking tests, the report estimated Collier County alone would spend $35 million on testing. Statewide, that number would skyrocket to an opportunity cost of nearly $2 billion.
Yet despite the fact that the state is spending this much time on testing, the report found that Florida has still been trailing behind at the back of the pack in many respects, despite making hefty gains in education in the late 1990s.
Take, for instance, Florida's high school graduation rates. The state had a 60 percent graduation rate several years ago, a number which has climbed to 75 percent. But Florida still ranks 40th in the nation among all states in high school graduation rates, and has for a number of years.
Florida students aren't posting gains as high on national assessment tests, either. The percentage of Florida students scoring "advanced" on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test only increased from 5 percent in 2003 to 6 percent in 2013, while the national average jumped from 5 percent to 7 percent.
NAEP scores have failed to remain consistent over the years as well. Fourth-grade reading scores improved from 32nd to eighth from 2003 and 2013, but the group of 4th-graders which took the NAEP test in 2009 (where they ranked 10th nationally) fell to 33rd as 8th-graders.
The findings are worrying for Donalds, who says although the state might be doing a better job at preparing students for a basic level of thinking, they aren't quite as prepared for the rigors of college or more advanced subjects.
When students get to college, around 54 percent of Florida's college freshmen taking placement exams require remedial education, opposed to about 40 percent of college freshmen nationwide.
Donalds sent her report to the FDOE and recommended the state conduct its own investigation into testing time.
But the department says the report neglects to characterize the "real gains" that have taken place in Florida's education system. The DOE says districts should be responsible for these types of reports.
"It would be most appropriate for districts to conduct the studies recommended in the paper, and to have them collect data, rather than the anecdotal evidence cited in the report," read a statement from the FDOE. "For example, the 'loss of focus metric' is the largest proportion of the statistics cited for indirect loss of instructional time,' yet there is no clear basis provided for this estimate.
To Donalds, the report serves an important function regardless of whether the department decides to investigate or not: to get the word out about the true cost of overtesting in Florida schools.
"What I've seen thus far is that issues like this don't play out in the open," Donalds told SSN. "They don't get very much attention and the Department of Education has their own agenda and their own ideas about what [their priorities are]. [This report] is here to force action or at least force an attentiveness to the issues that are brought forward."
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen