TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Amid an ongoing push from both ends of the political spectrum, Florida could finally unwind years of changes to the state’s high-stakes testing system.
A coalition of Republican and Democratic state senators have cobbled together a dramatic overhaul of the standardized tests that have become a rite-of passage — and a common target of complaints — since they were expanded under then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
A Senate panel on Monday approved the compromise measure that would eliminate four end-of-year exams for high school students that are now required in civics, United States history, geometry and Algebra II. The legislation would allow school districts to use pencil and paper tests instead of requiring students to take tests online. Another big change would allow students who do well on college entrance exams such as the SAT, or an advanced placement exams to bypass state required tests.
The bill (SB 926) also pushes back the date of when the state’s high-stakes test is given to the last three weeks of the school year. Florida’s main tests are now given anywhere from late February to early May.
Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican and a sponsor of the bill, said that some “testing policies did get out of hand” and that it was time to rethink some of the changes that were pushed into law over the last decade by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“It’s part of life,” Flores said. “Of realizing and seeing what’s working and what doesn’t.”
But the decision by Flores to work with other senators, including Sen. Bill Montford, a former school superintendent and Democratic legislator from Tallahassee, is a bit of a turnaround. Montford, for example, tried in recent years to give districts the option to keep a pencil and paper version of the state’s standardized test but ran into strong opposition from GOP legislators.
Florida has had standardized testing for decades, but it greatly expanded under Bush, who used the tests as a key measure for his A+ plan that tied student performance to a school grading system. After Bush left office, legislators tinkered further and added end-of-course exams that were designed to replicate a system used in New York high schools.
Initially it was the state’s teacher unions and Democratic legislators who complained about the testing system. That changed, however, in recent years after Florida developed a new test called the Florida Standards Assessment based primarily on a standards tied to Common Core, which came under strong criticism from conservative groups.
Earlier this year a group of Republicans – including Flores – proposed a series of modest changes that were endorsed by the Bush-created Foundation for Excellence in Education.
The House is moving that legislation, which calls for changing when the state’s standardized tests are given and requires that parents and teachers be given test results in an easy-to-read format. That bill also calls for a study of whether or not an entrance exam such as the SAT or ACT could be substituted for the state’s main math and reading tests. It’s not clear if the House is willing to go along with the dramatic changes proposed by the Senate.
Rep. Manny Diaz, a Miami Republican and sponsor of the House bill, said he is “open at looking at everything” but said legislators need to weigh the actual cost of switching back to paper and pencil tests. He also said he needs to look at the effects of eliminating end of course exams on Florida’s school grading system.
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