Can this bill help online students take their tests?

For years, Florida’s online schools have grappled with a logistical challenge: Getting their students to the campuses of brick-and-mortar schools, operated by school districts, to take their standardized tests.

Kevin Chavous, the president of the online learning company Stride, laid out the complications several years ago:

Imagine that a school district notifies parents that they must take their child to a location 60 miles from home for testing. Transportation will not be provided; parents are responsible for ensuring that their children arrive every day at their assigned testing site for up to a week, until all exams are complete. Families with multiple children may need to travel every day for two or three consecutive weeks, depending on the kids’ grade levels and the tests they must take. This may require making hotel arrangements and requesting leave from employers to ensure their child is present each day.

This scenario is, of course, absurd and would never happen in a regular school district. Yet it is reality for students in full-time, statewide online public schools.

One consequence of these and other mundane hurdles has been a raft of “incomplete” A-F grades whenever the state releases its annual school accountability reports.

For the 2022-23 school year, 20 of the 32 public schools that received incomplete grades were online learning institutions. The previous year, online schools accounted for 29 of 40 incompletes.

Virtual students have a harder time showing up for assessments proctored in person, or even knowing where to go or whom to ask. As a result, online schools are more likely to have fewer than 95% of their eligible students submitting test results, which can lead to an incomplete letter grade.

New legislation passed this year could help. A provision of HB 1285, a wide-ranging education bill, would set specific expectations for districts and online schools:

It is the responsibility of the approved virtual instruction program provider or virtual charter school to provide a list of students to be administered statewide assessments and progress monitoring to the school district, including the students’ names, Florida Education Identifiers, grade levels, assessments and progress monitoring to be administered, and contact information. Unless an alternative testing site is mutually agreed to by the approved virtual instruction program provider or virtual charter school and the school district, or as specified in the contract under s. 1008.24, all assessments and progress monitoring must be taken at the school to which the student would be assigned according to district school board attendance policies. A school district must provide the student with access to the school’s or district’s testing facilities and provide the student with the date and time of the administration of each assessment and progress monitoring.

That might not fix all the logistical hassles described by Chavous, but it could help iron out some more run-of-the-mill coordination challenges with getting virtual students into physical campuses for testing.


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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at) sufs.org.

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