Florida Legislators Struggle Over Limiting Standardized Tests


Because of the ongoing backlash over Florida’s standardized testing, the state’s Senate has passed a sweeping bill that places limits on the way tests are used in public schools. After two days of debate, in which leading Republican senators said the state had gone too far with changes that were initiated by former Jeb Bush, the vote took place. Gary Fineout of the Associate Press quotes Sen. Alan Hayes (R-Umatilla):

“We’ve made some mistakes and we were bold. I feel like now our obligation is to honestly admit our mistakes, apologize for them and correct them.”

The Senate measure would put a limit on the time students spend on the state’s standardized tests to not more than 45 hours a year. It also eliminates an 11th grade standardized test that Gov. Rick Scott had already suspended for this year. According to Senate President Andy Gardiner, the law will make for “fewer and better tests.”

The Florida Standards Assessment is based on the Common Core standards. It was the result of a six-year, $220 million contract for a new standardized test that is now being used in elementary, middle, and high school. Along with the new test came technical glitches and an alleged cyber attack.

Another problem some senators had was that the validity of the test was compromised by the problems encountered. They would like to see the A-F grading system eliminated until an independent study of the test can be completed. There was no comment from American Institutes for Research, the testing company, concerning the independent study.

When the Florida legislative session began, legislators were intent on minimizing the level of testing, especially after a southwest district briefly opted out of state testing. The final Senate vote was 32-4, with a small group of senators saying the legislation had not gone far enough. Both the House and the Senate voted for allowing schools to move up starting dates to August 10, giving school districts more flexibility.

Florida’s parents have taken a stand against the time the tests take away from classroom instruction.  Meredith Mears was led to begin home-schooling her two children.

“It was the drill and kill thing,” said Mears. “The third grade year is the hardest for teachers, because the kids have to pass those tests because everything else is tied to it. The school grades, their pay, everything.”

Tenth grader Claire Overholt also opted out.

“For my AP classes I have an AP exam,” said Overholt. “Then for my other courses that are honors, I have to take an EOI, which is a test from the district, or an EOC, which is an end of course exam from the state.”

Jade Bulecza, reporting for WTXL-TV, says that Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart sent a copy of what is in the law:

Florida law requires that participation in the assessment program is mandatory for all school districts and all students attending public schools (section 1008.22(3), f.s.). the law also states that each student must participate in the statewide, standardized assessment program (section 1008.25(4)(a), f.s.).

HB 7069 now returns to the House, reports The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee. It is not clear whether the changes approved last week will mend the differences between the two chambers.

04 7, 2015