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Published in Print: May 12, 2004, as Florida Test Answers Still Off-Limits To Parents

Florida Test Answers Still Off-Limits To Parents

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Florida lawmakers adjourned without taking final action on a plan to let parents or guardians review their children’s answers on state standardized tests.

The Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill late last month that would have permitted a student’s parents or guardian to review answers to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test under secure conditions.

Senate Bill 1592 passed 40-0 on April 27. But a companion measure, House Bill 703, did not get a hearing before the legislature adjourned for the year.

"We are definitely not giving up," said Gloria T. Pipkin, the president of the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform, a grassroots organization that supported the legislation. "Open testing is one of our major issues. Life-altering decisions about children should never be made on the basis of a single test, and certainly not a single secret test as we have here in Florida."

Scores on the FCAT are used to determine rewards and penalties for schools. Test results also help decide whether 3rd graders are promoted to the next grade, and whether high school students receive a diploma.

Parents receive their children’s scores on the FCAT and how they have performed within individual content areas, such as the ability to identify a main idea, in order to target areas of strength and weakness. With the exception of sample items, though, test questions and students’ responses to them are not disclosed.

The bills would have given parents the right to review their child’s answers on the exams under secure conditions at school. The state education department would have had to pay $100 a day if such requests were not honored within 21 days.

Sen. Gary Siplin, a Democrat and the sponsor of the legislation, said, "Because I couldn’t get them to stop doing the FCAT, I figured I’d get them to allow the parents to see the test, so they can judge where their kids are deficient, so they can improve their scores."

‘Just Looking’

MacKay Jimeson, a spokesman for the Florida education department, said that "just looking at questions and answers doesn’t necessarily give parents the entire picture of how a child can improve in a particular area." The FCAT now costs more than $14 million a year for test development and related administrative costs, he added. If parents had access to test questions, "essentially, every year we would have to rebuild a completely different test," he said.

Massachusetts makes public all of the test items on which results are based after each administration, while Texas and Virginia release forms of their tests. Parents in Delaware and Minnesota can examine their children’s graded tests under secure conditions.

Last November, a state appeals court in Florida ruled that a parent could not review the exam his son had failed. Copies of the FCAT are not public records, the court said, and parents have no right to see them.

Vol. 23, Issue 36, Page 22

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