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By Sandy Stenoff

The FSA Writing test is being administered in grades 4-10 across Florida now and it’s not what one could easily mistake for “valid” or “reliable.”

Less than a week into this year’s FSA testing season (March 1 through May 18) and data-mining alarms are blaring. We should pace ourselves.

“My daughter opted out yesterday and told me the prompt was “Should Kids Take Online Classes” – it was an argumentative writing prompt. Just FYI.”
One middle school student revealed that one of the eighth grade writing prompts was on “Changing School Start Times.”  The student said that the sources were 1) “science-based FOR later start times” – like this. 2) anecdotal – “just a parent’s opinion AGAINST later start times because it disrupted her schedule.”

It’s a hot topic with political consequences for every municipality (see here, here, here and here). Communities are divided. Understandably, some parents are conflicted about the start times and work schedules. School boards are balking at the cost of adding bus routes, drivers….

Others are saying at school board meetings,

“Stop! For once, just do what’s right for the kids. Make decisions based on the evidence. For once. Please.”

While we would agree with the actual evidence and arguments supporting later start times for adolescents, that’s not the issue here. If they want to force their high stakes onto our children, they need to do a better job of putting valid test questions together. The questions don’t seem to be balanced. The questions, as presented, steer children toward a particular outcome, complete with reward or punishment for thinking (arguing) one way over another. The thing is, the kids know it and they know how to game the system to produce the desired result – which is how the data-miners can sell their product: students’ data. Rigged much?

We used to be so concerned about product placement in tests, targeting children. Today’s testing companies are more sophisticated, less obvious, and more insidious than ever. They’re drilling deeper, gathering student data to more effectively target our children for profit. Face it, parents. Kids are commodities and schools are the meat market. To add insult to injury, who pays for it? We do! Such a bargain for our reformster ‘friends.’

Of course, with friends like that…

HIGH SCHOOL – The Tenth grade ELA FSA

Two prompts:
1. Gun Control.  One source was supportive – and two sources were opposed, one without solid evidence and one was more of an opinion piece.
2. Inventions that happen by chance – Sources for this one were more balanced.

Considering that Florida is rampant with student activism now, specifically about gun control, this is conspicuous and conveniently timely.

In a recent practice test with writing prompts about the Electoral College, two sources were opposed with “data-based sources”, while the one supporting the Electoral College was not well sourced.

It essentially forced students to write an essay, where the favored position was in opposition to the Electoral College – for a better test score. One student tried to write his essay FOR the Electoral College but became “super frustrated.” He stopped his essay and refocused it to write about how poor the sources were and why. We think he did the right thing.

It was also reported to us that the “electoral college” prompt was an actual prompt for this week’s test. Therefore, some students had a prompt that they may have had time to think about!

The FSA is created for the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Parent and education activist, Deb Herbage has researched and written a great deal about AIR and the evolution of their relationship with the FLDOE. You can read more in her guest post for national education blogger, Mercedes Schneider:

Guest Post: Deb Herbage on American Institutes for Research (AIR)

So exactly WHO is writing the FSA questions?
What have you asked your kids about the FSA this week, and what have they told you?

We’d really like to know.

Teachers can’t tell us. They’re not allowed to know.

Is it possible that the tests are just poorly written? Sure. Anything is possible.

But so far, just one week into testing, Florida’s 2018 FSA duck is quacking like a student survey.


As long as the State of Florida continues to tie high stakes consequences to these poorly written tests, parents should know that they don’t have to buy whatever it is they’re selling – certainly not that these tests will improve education.

One of the most important things for parents to know is that they don’t have to offer up their children’s data to feed the high stakes testing machine and Florida’s false accountability that, every single day, diminishes and labels our students, teachers and schools.

Demand more. Opt out.

Here’s how: The Complete 2018 OPT OUT GUIDE