Today's news -- April 4, 2017




Senators moving toward reducing assessment tests *

A sweeping plan to reduce standardized testing in Florida's K-12 schools cleared its first state Senate committee Monday, after lawmakers struck a compromise to blend competing reform proposals. Despite political drama last week that delayed the policy discussion, senators breezed through vetting SB 926 and passed it unanimously after considering most of the amendments — all but two out of the 19 filed — in less than 15 minutes. Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, who led the meeting, provided no time for the Education Committee to debate the changed bill or for the public to weigh in prior to the final vote. The committee ran out of time, because nearly two dozen bills were scheduled to be heard in just two hours. (The committee won't meet next week because of the Passover holiday.) "I know sometimes, with the public, it looks like we rushed through this and we went through a lot of things in a short amount of time," said Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, who sponsored the bill. "But this is the result of not just working together in the last week, but working together over the last several months." Her revised proposal represents an acknowledgment by lawmakers this year of the flaws in the state's education accountability system, such as over-testing or duplicative testing that has frustrated parents and educators. The changes approved Monday blended Flores' originally basic testing proposal with much more comprehensive — and politically more popular — reforms proposed by Tallahassee Democratic Sen. Bill Montford, a move that last week drew the ire of a top Senate Republican who came to Montford's defense. Although Flores and Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. had promoted their joint effort as a "Fewer, Better Tests" bill, it actually proposed nothing to reduce student assessments. It originally shifted all testing to the last three weeks of the school year and required a faster turnaround time for teachers and parents to get results. Many of the changes approved Monday incorporate ideas first proposed in Montford's testing bill, SB 964. Those include eliminating end-of-course exams in geometry, Algebra II, U.S. history and civics; allowing school districts to use paper-and-pencil exams instead of computerized tests; and, repealing a controversial formula to evaluate teachers based on their students' year-over-year growth on exams. "Sometimes this is the way government has to work; you compromise to make things better," Montford said. "We must, this session, pass a bill that will give students and teachers relief...This is not a retreat from accountability at all; as a matter of fact, I believe this is the strengthening of a good state assessment program." Montford's bill wanted to let students use the SAT or ACT in lieu of the Florida Standards Assessments, but senators on the Education Committee want an independent study first to see if that's feasible and would align with Florida Standards, the state's version of Common Core. Another change to Flores' measure would let students who pass certain exams — such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests — to be exempt from the statewide assessments in those areas, beginning next school year. "Essentially what we're trying to do with this legislation — at least when it started out — was to reduce the amount of testing that we have in Florida schools," Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, said. "One of the best ways and easiest ways to do that is to leverage other tests that are trusted by parents and educators, are nationally recognized and that our students are already having to take in the course of their education. To the extent that we can utilize those tests, there's a chance that we can avoid students taking duplicative tests," he added, noting that some of those tests are "accepted and trusted by our parents much more than the FSA." The House version of Flores' initial measure — HB 773 from Diaz — has only one more hearing before it could reach the House floor. Just small changes have been made to Diaz's bill so far.


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