- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Several school districts on Tuesday suspended Florida’s new standardized tests for a second day, despite assurances that the problems had been fixed.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart asked districts early in the morning 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. She held a late afternoon phone call with more than 50 school superintendents and said even more improvements had been made.

“While we cannot guarantee that some users will not encounter similar issues tomorrow, I also do not want to prevent any districts who have had success from continuing their testing tomorrow,” she said in a Tuesday night email to superintendents.

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 the same glitches that had troubled the system on its first day were still evident around the state 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.

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 in her email that the company administering the test reported that more than 150,000 students had successfully completed it during the first two days. She said that represented 23 percent of the middle- and high-school students signed up to take the test.

Earlier in the day Clemens and Bullard contended tens of thousands of students were unable to log-in and instructional time was “wasted.”

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Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fineout

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