Standardized testing must be done on school campuses, Florida education commissioner says

Florida will extend the standardized testing period in the spring to allow for in-person testing for students who have not yet returned to campus due to COVID-19 concerns, the state's education commissioner said in a new order.

The testing, which usually takes place over a two-week period, was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be expanded this year by at least two weeks.

Some parents who have not yet sent their children back to campus are asking the state to cancel the tests again. One online petition has more than 12,600 signatures, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

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But Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and many local school leaders say the tests in language arts, science, math and social studies would provide valuable information on what students have learned in a year interrupted by the pandemic.

The order issued Monday said that testing, which is required by federal and state laws, "is now more critical than ever."

Testing results will give parents and educators a gauge of student progress and of what additional help might be needed to "ensure that each student is given the services and supports they need to succeed in life," the order said.

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State officials said more than 840,000 standardized tests have been administered safely since the summer, in part because more time was given, including weekend and evening sessions. The same methods could be used for the spring testing, officials said.

"The fact is Florida’s school districts and schools have proven this can be done safely since last summer," Jacob Oliva, chancellor of K-12 education at the Florida Department of Education, said in a Jan. 28 memo to school superintendents, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Florida’s spring testing season, when nearly 2 million students in grades 3 through high school take exams, begins in early April and runs through early June.

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Each group of tests is typically administered during about a two-week period. With testing spread out over a month or more, educators hope there will be fewer students in a room at a time.

In his memo, Oliva also told school districts they must tell parents of the benefits of testing and of their safety protocols on campus, so they know about disinfecting routines, mask-wearing and how testing rooms would be set up.