The “Rigor Gap” and Pandemic Schooling

The Florida Council of 100 (C100), a statewide organization of business leaders, recently released a study showing a “rigor gap” between student grades and standardized test scores (specifically in Algebra I and English Language Arts) for high school students. It seems students are scoring low or failing standardized tests while passing classes for those same subjects.

The C100 concludes that this gap is caused by teachers and administrators failing to hold students accountable for the standards. But, what if there’s more to the story?

To really study the reasons for the gap, it’s necessary to first consider the validity of standardized tests, and the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment) in particular. Research indicates that standardized tests in general are not reliable sources for high stakes decisions. The validity of the FSA in particular has been called into question many times, beginning with the state’s own validity study, conducted in 2015.

Beyond the research, parents and teachers have been questioning for years why the FSA is being used for so many high stakes decisions.  It doesn’t measure skills that students need in college, career and life, such as: resilience, character, problem solving, communication skills and creativity. This calls into question why the business members of the C100 would suggest that students are less prepared for the workplace based solely on standardized test scores, when companies have been saying for years that soft skills matter most in hiring decisions.

Another study indicated that GPA is a stronger predictor of college success than standardized test scores, with a direct correlation between high school GPA and college graduation rates.

The C100 study was conducted specifically to focus on the pandemic schooling taking place across the state. Beginning in March when schools were shut down, teachers turned on a dime, providing enrichment and education from home to deliver even a small amount of consistency and learning into a stressful environment. Schools are now continuing to educate students as we move through the uncertainty that comes with a national health crisis. While attending school during a pandemic isn’t ideal for anyone, learning is still occurring in the best way possible, given the circumstances.

Now is not the time to criticize teachers or students, or to implement more “rigorous” progress monitoring aimed at supporting the test and punish accountability system in our state. Now is the time to meet the needs of every student and teacher where they are through additional support for schools and families. Additional support, not additional testing, will help students recover from learning loss and address achievement gaps.

The C100 points out that the responsibility for closing the “rigor gap” falls upon the school system. While schools are responsible for educating children, the business community also bears responsibility for working with, not against, our school system to support an accountability system that measures what matters, both during pandemic school and beyond.


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