Florida: Politically Referenced Tests?

K-12 Testing

Critics have long pointed out that test results can be engineered for political purposes – “politically referenced testing” -- by a variety of techniques, including deciding which students to exclude in reporting scores. This spring, several Florida legislators asked whether Governor Jeb Bush was “cooking the numbers” when the state decided to ignore the results from more than 18,000 minority students who scored poorly. Not counting them enabled the state to claim that African American and Latino test scores are rising. The percentage of Hispanic fourth graders who were counted declined from 87% to 76%, with a similar decline for fourth grade Black children. Bush, who is running for re-election, claimed the sanitized numbers are a more accurate indicator of overall progress because, as state officials pointed out, they do not include students with special needs or limited English proficiency.


The flip side of not counting low scorers is “getting tough,” and Florida is leading here as well. The state is one of the few that now requires students who do not pass a test to be retained in grade, though districts can provide waivers for “good cause.” This year, 30,000 students face grade retention, an action that research has demonstrated to be educationally and emotionally harmful. Since three percent of fourth grade students were retained last year while 31% did not pass the reading test, Bush has been demanding stricter enforcement of the “no pass, no promotion” rule. The rule is to expand to include third grade students next year.