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Politics

Fate of 'Fewer, Better Tests' Proposal Uncertain After Senate Committee Shelves Bill

March 27, 2017 - 4:15pm

The Senate Education Committee temporarily postponed a vote on a bill to limit testing in Florida on Monday, casting a cloud of uncertainty over the legislation’s fate.

The committee TPed the bill by a narrow 5-4 vote Monday afternoon.

Dubbed the “Fewer, Better Testing” legislation, SB 926, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, would require Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart to review both the SAT and ACT tests to determine whether or not their results could be used in place of the Florida Standards Assessment. 

The bill would also move testing to the end of the school year and shorten the testing window from nine weeks to three weeks. SB 926 would not eliminate any tests outright.

The legislation could see a few changes under a series of late filed amendments from Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Simmons’ amendments would offer a nonelectronic, paper and pencil testing option for students, an idea which has gained significant traction from some lawmakers and statewide education groups.

On the whole, SB 926 has been sharply criticized by parent groups and lawmakers, who have called the bill “useless.”

“[The bill] does not truly eliminate any tests, so it’s a big misnomer but even more concerning is language in it that ties proficiency on FSA to the NAEP,” Florida Stop Common Core Coalition executive director Karen Effrem told Sunshine State News. It will actually do grievous harm and it will be hugely expensive in human and financial terms.”

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who sponsors rival legislation to actually eliminate some tests in Florida, agreed. 

"That bill has great talking points, but if you read it, it does nothing," Lee has said. "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."

Opponents have also criticized SB 926 for tying Florida Standards Assessment cut scores 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.”

Effrem and other critics of the bill fear students will fail at higher rates as a result of tying the FSA to NAEP, causing many of them to be held back a grade and resulting in a decline in school letter grades.

“The pass rate will go down significantly,” Effrem said. 

Opponents of the legislation have also said cramming testing into three weeks, all without pencil and paper options, was unrealistic and would hinder the efficiency of districts.

"Putting everything in three weeks without eliminating any tests or any stakes associated with them when school districts don’t have end dates seems to make it more complicated," said Effrem. "It’s just going to be a mess. If you try doing everything in 3 weeks without pen and paper option, the system is going to explode."

Effrem and groups like Common Ground, a bipartisan coalition of parent and education groups, said SB 964 is a better alternative to actually get rid of unnecessary standardized tests.

"Common Ground strongly supports SB 964, and we hope to either have this bill heard or have all of it included in any education bill that moves forward," the group said Monday.

Flores has previously said she sees SB 926 as merely a stepping stone on the path to progress and eliminating. Sunshine State News contacted Sen. Flores for comment on Monday’s meeting but had not received a response at the time of this article’s release.

 

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

 

Comments

As a former professor of education and a middle school teacher I spent much time assessing the learning progress of my students. And I also took it upon myself to spend many hours analyzing standardized tests. I came to the conclusion that my personal assessments of my students' learning was more valid than the results shown on the standardized tests. This was particularly the case when students were "tested" on complex matters in which there were no absolute answers. What mattered in these cases were logic, facts, and inductive thinking and the ability to communicate "findings" (answers) clearly. Moreover there were occasions when what I believed to be an "off the wall" test answer even among middle school children turned out to be the product of very serious , logical and even creative thinking when I asked them to explain their reasoning. There were of course truly " off the wall" responses. But these were informative to me as a teacher - I learned where I had failed to teach the desired skills - and how individual students responded differently to my teaching. I don't see how this could be done given the pressure present day teachers must face - pressure to get their students to get the right answers to test items conjured up by someone in a test mill located somewhere Neverland.

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