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Two State Senators Call on Gov. to Suspend School Testing

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Several school districts on Tuesday continued to suspend Florida's new standardized tests for a second day, despite assurances that the problems had been fixed.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart early in the morning asked districts to resume using the online portal that middle school and high school students must use in order to log on and take the state's annual standardized tests. Testing had been suspended a day earlier because of technological problems.

Stewart blamed problems on "software issues" and told school superintendents the company that had designed the test and online platform had worked overnight to fix it.

But two Democratic state senators wrote to Gov. Rick Scott asking that he suspend testing statewide until all problems had been fixed.

Sen. Jeff Clemens and Sen. Dwight Bullard called the first day of the new test a "disaster for school districts and students across the state."

"We are calling on you to immediately suspend the administration of these tests and allow time for educators to work out the problems, instead of using our children as guinea pigs for a flawed system," stated the letter.

When asked about the request shortly after his annual State of the State speech to the Legislature, Scott did not answer and instead noted that last week he issued an executive order suspending the 11th grade version of the test known as the Florida Standards Assessment.

Leon County schools superintendent Jackie Pons said it was "evident" that the same glitches that had troubled the system on its first day were repeating around the state on Tuesday. The Naples Daily News, for example, reported that Lee County had been forced to halt testing. Pons has suspended testing for both Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Based on my nine years of experiences as superintendent, we cannot afford to allow our students to go in to take a test with such high stakes and not have all the issues resolved," Pons said in a written statement.

Bay News 9 reported Pasco and Polk county schools suspended Tuesday's computerized testing for eighth, ninth and 10th graders.

Some Hillsborough County schools also had issues and were told to halt testing. Polk said it would resume testing for grades 8 to 10 Wednesday. Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning had already postponed some testing until Wednesday, saying he was not confident the issues would be corrected by Tuesday. At New Port Richey's Seven Springs Middle School, Principal Chris Dunning said suspending the tests was best for the students. "We didn’t want students or teachers to get frazzled," Dunning said. "Or get more frustration from a testing system by getting logged off or not being able to log in."

Bay News 9 also reported that while some computerized tests were slow to load at Pinellas County schools, students were able to take their tests Tuesday morning. In addition, Citrus and Manatee schools didn't report any problems.

The standardized tests are crucial because officials use them to decide everything from who graduates to whether students are held back in the third grade. This year's tests — which are being used for the first time — are based on the Common Core standards that have sparked opposition from some parents and teachers in Florida and other states.

School superintendents had already been bracing for potential problems, and had warned in recent weeks they weren't sure how the rollout of the new test would go, especially in the middle-school and high-school grades where it's is given online.

Stewart said that the company administering the test reported that 69,177 tests were started on Monday and 67,745 were successfully completed.

Clemens and Bullard called the statements made by Stewart "misleading" because tens of thousands of students were unable to log-in and instructional time was "wasted."

"This is such a terrible twisting of the truth as to be almost unbelievable," their letter says.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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