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Politics

Education Groups Knock 'Misleading' Fewer, Better Tests Legislation

March 16, 2017 - 6:00am

Florida lawmakers might be calling HB 773 the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, but parent groups say the bill’s title is totally misleading and isn’t actually doing anything to eliminate standardized testing in the Sunshine State. 

State Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, and Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, are all touting the legislation as a way to scale back standardized testing in Florida.

Not so fast, parents say.

“First of all, this [title] is a misnomer,” Beth Overholt of education advocacy group Common Ground told Sunshine State News. 

Common Ground is composed of representatives from six education groups like Florida Stop Common Core Coalition and Fund Education Now. 

Overholt told SSN the legislation doesn’t actually eliminate tests, but just alters how long students would be taking tests at the end of the school year -- so the title, she said, is totally misleading.

“They’re not fewer and they’re not better tests," she said. "I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

The bill’s sponsors don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment, either.

"Fewer testing is a nickname of the bill,” Sen. Flores told SSN Wednesday. 

Flores said the bill’s name wasn’t totally off, though, because it would “eliminate” tests if grading companies couldn’t get results from district-wide assessments back to teachers within a week of administration. But at that point, students would have already taken the test. 

Flores explained only the students whose test results were turned around in a week would remain -- something HB 773/SB 926 would require companies to do if the proposal became law.  

“This legislation was developed with the input of teachers and parents, who wanted state testing to serve its fundamental purpose of assessing students’ knowledge, not be something that takes the focus away from actual learning,” Flores contended. 

The name isn’t the only aspect of HB 773 opponents have taken issue with. 

Common Ground says the bill also promotes “unrealistic” Florida Standards Assessment cut scores by tying them beyond grade level proficiency by linking them to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test. 

NAEP is often considered one of the more rigorous national tests and education advocates have said its results are generally incomparable to statewide assessments. In 2016, the Florida Board of Education voted 6-1 to accept more lenient cut scores on the FSA, tying a level 4 to proficiency and keeping a 3 as “satisfactory.”

The new provisions of HB 773 are particularly alarming to Common Ground since they could result in more students being held back in school.    

“This will result in many more students being retained in 3rd grade as well as high school students not receiving their diplomas, all based on an arbitrary decision,” Common Ground said.

Diaz said the bill was the first step to limit testing in Florida, not an end-all, be-all proposal.

“This is a starting point of our conversation, and we have to go to the process to refine our product,” Rep. Diaz told SSN. “The first thing we must fix is our testing calendar.”

Overholt said she was glad lawmakers were taking an interest in limiting testing, but told SSN there was still lots of work to be done. 

“I appreciate [their] efforts but people realize this isn’t doing what it says and it will die [in the legislature,]” she said.  

Even other lawmakers have scoffed at the legislation, saying the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill was merely lip service instead of an actual service to the people.

"That bill has great talking points, but if you read it, it does nothing," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who cosponsors SB 964, a rival bill to eliminate testing in the Senate. "It's very, very important that we have legislation that matches our talking points, and that when we go home and we say we did something to effect change, that we actually did that."

Bills like SB 964 have gained traction with groups like Common Ground, who called it a “good bill” since it eliminates end-of-course exams and the 9th grade FSA. 

Testing, Overholt and Common Ground argue, has to be limited for the good of Florida’s students.

“We know that these tests are killing our kids,” Overholt said. “It’s testing on steroids… [these bills are] ‘accountabaloney.'"

 

Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

Comments

Florida Standards are nothing more than Common Core under a new name. A shell game at our kids' and teachers' expense.

Children should not be measured like products of factory schools, where we sort out the "defective" ones and throw them away. They should be educated based on their individual, God given spark of genius, to be the best they can be. When you test a monkey, a fish, and an elephant on their ability to climb a tree, the elephant and the fish will be left behind, but they, too, have unique talents. "Holding teachers accountable" is a popular phrase, and I am not supporting unions. But the design of incentives based on student scores is the major flaw in this plan. You get what you reward. Teachers (and administrators) will only teach to the test and game the system any way they can. Curriculum is narrowed, and cheating is rampant. Unless we remove Common Core and the federal monopoly, The focus on charter schools and vouchers is meaningless, as all education is the same, with the same tests, the same curriculum, the same counterproductive incentive system. When federal dollars and state dollars are used to bludgeon schools to conform or lose funding, there will be no real education. The move toward home schooling shows that parents are awakening to the fact that the legislature has sold our children down the river for the age old motives, MONEY and POWER. Tallahassee and DC are the swamps of education lobbyists selling their new testing and conformity toys to ignorant and/or greedy legislators who don't understand why our children are learning less every year. We must break that mold and end Common Core and high stakes testing. We can use nationally normed testing on sample groups or even infrequently to determine progress without wasting SO much money and time that we have no time to learn. Teachers used to give tests, correct the tests and give a grade at the end. They were trained and certified to do that. They were managed, promoted and fired by locals who could observe their skills. Unions and bad education schools made this difficult and the legislature responded by taking away their control. To get at this problem, other countries are good examples. Finland with the best education results, trains their teachers better and longer. They are paid more and are better respected. Children do not waste their time on standardized testing until they are 16. They don't even start school until they are 7. There are 15 minute breaks between classes in high school so that students can stretch and be prepared. There is more recess in lower grades. Their results are outstanding! Then there is the annoying Constitution which is violated daily by the very people who have taken an oath to protect and defend it at all levels, from school boards to the President of the United States. The Constitution is crystal clear about the duties of the federal government in Article 1 section 8. They are "clear and defined." There is NO mention of any duty whatsoever in the area of education. Then the capper is the 10th Amendment, which simply states that anything NOT identified in Article 1, section 8 belongs to the States or to the People. Our founding fathers had good reason for designing our federal government to the servant and not the master of the sovereign states. People who solve their problems and define their own success are more likely to achieve great things. Our country grew great because individuals were free to determine their own destiny. We must unleash that human potential once again by freeing our children from the slavish conformity now demanded through illegal and unconstitutional federal control.

Of course they do. They are the reason people are fed up with the education system. Just like every organized union refuses to be placed on a meritocracy plan. Florida is a "Right to Work" State, why do we allow our public employees to collective bargain? They allowed students to fall through the crack by promoting them even if they did not learn the minimum requirements of the grade. They promote mediocrity with participation trophies, and the results are most students are not capable of earning a living because they never had to compete. Time to put teachers in a system where they compete for excellence against each other. Only the best will keep their job. Let parents have the right to choose what teacher they want for their child. Do that any you will see educational results skyrocket.

You talk as if schools can be run like businesses. Shocker here, they can't. It is not a complete system. You can have the best teacher in the world and if the child will not do the work and the parent will not enforce the child in doing so, the child will fail, regardless of the teaching. This is all a shell game to try to privatize the school system through vouchers and charters. It is all really just legalized racketeering. You pay us, we'll support and promote your worthless corporate schools that make money off of our tax dollars whether for profit or not. By the way, we'll exempt you from the same rules that the public schools have to follow, so no one really knows how terrible the education you are providing is. You want to see schools flourish and our education system return to the top 20 in the world again? Make it illegal for politicians to be involved in it (and public safety for that matter too.). Not one of the top 20 world leaders in education have a politician driven system. In fact, in most of those countries, their laws forbid it for the very reasons I just talked about. Wake up and educate yourselves or at least get out of the way, so we can better educate our future, our children...

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