… as dreaded FSA exams on horizon

F-S-A. It’s the three letters many students, parents and even teachers dread from the time they return from winter break.

Students throughout the state in grades 3 through 10 will take the Florida Standard Assessment Test in language arts and math on a staggered schedule between March 1 and May 18. In Brevard County, that means the majority of the school district’s approximately 72,280 students will take the tests.

Student FSA scores are used to evaluate teachers and administrators, and help determine bonuses, retention and those annual school letter grades of A to F that schools are so pressured to maintain. If a school appears to have shortfalls, district officials meet with a team at the school and formulate a school improvement plan. So the stakes are pretty high. No one wants to wind up on the “needs improvement” list.

Brevard Public Schools Assessment Coordinator Neyda Francis said the district has a policy against “prepping” students specifically for standardized tests. Rather, she says, the material and skills needed to do well are taught throughout the school year.

Francis said she met with school assistant principals last week and reminded them that going over specific test questions and other targeted preparation is against district policy. She said there are inevitably some teachers who still do it, though.

“Teaching to the standards is highly encouraged,” Francis said. “Making sure students have the tools to be successful, that’s highly encouraged. Practicing the test, no.”

Kids do take a sample test, and parents can access similar tests at https://fsassessments.org. But she said the sample tests are designed to teach test-taking skills, not so students can memorize the questions and concepts verbatim.

BPS spokesperson Jennifer Wolfinger said there are no major changes to this year’s testing procedures.

Francis said she usually gets a couple of calls a year from parents who are wondering what they can do at home to prepare their students for standardized testing. She said the same advice applies to parents – do what you would normally do to support your child’s learning. That means things like reading on a regular basis and ensuring they don’t fall behind, Francis said.

“When you look at the FSA, it’s a test of endurance,” Francis said. “I am not one for pushing the kids so that they are stressed out before the test. The teachers in the classroom are the teaching the skills to be successful in this test.”

Brevard Public Schools students scored higher than students statewide in every FSA category and grade last year. For example, 62 percent of BPS students in grades six through eight scored at a level three or above (out of five levels) in language arts, compared to 53 percent statewide.

According to the published state testing schedule, the first group to take the writing component of the test in early March will be grades 8 through 10, and then grades 4 through 7 in mid-March. Then after spring break will be grade 3 reading, followed by grades 4 through 10 reading and grade 3 through 8 math.

The FSA testing window ends May 18, then the school year ends on Wednesday, May 23.

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