Leading members of the House and Senate unveiled legislation Wednesday that they said could help reduce the amount of time Florida public school students spend on standardized tests during the school year.
But lawmakers admitted that the proposal (HB 773, SB 926), dubbed the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, would not explicitly do away with any exams.
The proposal would require the state’s language arts and math tests to be administered in the last three weeks of a school year, with the exception of the 3rd-grade reading exam.
It also requires that the scores for any tests used by local school districts be provided to teachers within a week, instead of the month currently allowed by law. And it calls for the state to conduct a study of whether college-entrance exams are closely aligned with Florida’s high school standards, with an eye on potentially using them as at least a partial replacement for the state’s graduation tests.
The proposal comes amid a continuing stream of complaints from parents that children in Florida’s schools are over-tested. Lawmakers at the press conference said they had heard the gripes.
“We got the message from parents and teachers about how they feel about the testing process, the anxiety that some of their students feel and really the common-sense approach of what they need and what kind of tools they need to make sure that their children or that their students are getting a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.
Sprowls is set to become the speaker of the House after the 2020 elections.
The legislation is backed by the influential Foundation for Florida’s Future, an organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush to guard his work on education accountability. The foundation and other testing supporters have come under siege from the public pushback against testing in recent years.
Still, the legislation, highlighted at an event Wednesday at the Capitol, doesn’t get rid of any of the exams that parents, students and teachers have complained about.
“It doesn’t eliminate any tests,” Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said in response to a reporter’s question.
When the reporter underscored the title that lawmakers gave the legislation, she pointed out that it would limit the amount of time when school districts can administer exams.
“It does reduce the testing window, but I don’t know if actually eliminates any tests,” Flores said.
Supporters said the one-week window for local tests was aimed at prompting districts to get rid of any exams that couldn’t meet that standard.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said the local tests contributed more to the current backlash from parents than the state assessments, as districts try to measure their students ahead of the state exams.
“That’s what produced, I think, the overwhelming feeling that kids are just being over-tested anywhere,” said Diaz, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees public school spending. “A lot of those tests are local because districts just want to see where their students are. And I don’t blame them. But, unfortunately, we have to clear the path for learning to go on.”
After the event, Diaz told a reporter he didn’t think there were too many state tests, but added, “I think we always have to evaluate that, because things change.”
Whether the bills could command support from groups like the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union and one of the organizations pushing back on over-testing, remains unclear. Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the FEA, said in an email that the group was still studying the proposal.
“There are some elements of the proposal we agree with, others that may be concerning,” Pudlow said. “We’ll be seeking clarification on some of those areas of concern.”
The legislation at least makes some nods in the direction of specific ideas that have been floated to help lighten the testing load in Florida, but doesn’t go as far as more sweeping suggestions.
For example, Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the Senate’s education budget-writing panel, has said there is “a good chance” that legislation he is planning to address testing will recommend doing away high school tests not required by federal law. The bill unveiled Wednesday would not do that.
And Sen. Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa, has pushed for the state to allow at least some students to use scores on national tests like the SAT and the Preliminary SAT in lieu of state assessments, like the high-school graduation exam.
Diaz emphasized the need to study how well those tests line up with the state’s education standards before going down that road.
“All of those conversations have occurred without us taking an actual deep-dive look at whether that is actually even viable,” he said.
During a committee meeting last month, that argument didn’t appear to persuade Lee.
“If you have a child that is performing well on the PSAT to the point where they’re then going on to make (a high score) on the SAT, what else do we need to know?” he said.
“And if they’re not doing as well as we hope to on our (state tests) after accomplishing those scores on the PSAT and the SAT, maybe it’s our standards that are the problem, not the test.”
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida
Any time the government has their hands into something it’s a mess. Let the teachers teach and keep the government OUT! Didn’t have all these stupid tests when I went to school ( K-12 ) and I managed to get a B. S. in Mechanical Engineering and A. S. in Software Engineering. And, I didn’t even have to take a SAT test to go to private college. Just needed three recommendations from my high school teachers and an essay as to why I want to attend the college. Seems to me it’s a money making machine.
Sounds expensive. Testing lobbyists are seeing $$ signs. How about a bill that mandates a maximum cap on the amount per student that can be spent on mandatory standardized tests?
Travis Hutson and Paul Renner – are you hearing this? Are you paying attention? Or are you getting campaign contributions from Pearson and other big testing companies?
PC Citizen says
These tests don’t accomplish anything.
The whole school system needs to be revamped. The school system in the United States is base upon a nineteenth century model.
The people of Flagler County have been sold a pig in a poke. They have been convinced that innovation is equivalent to giving the kids computers so that they can do multiple choice tests.
The schools are not teaching critical thinking or many of the basics that students need to be good citizens.
Beyond the 3Rs the schools should be teaching civics, economics, history, geography and world events.
You will hardly find a high school graduate in this country that can carry out much of an intelligent conversation about anything. The school system is an epic fail.
In addition to adding more of what I referred to above to the curriculum students should have more access to shops and labs since many people do real learning by doing things hands on. And no this doesn’t mean virtual labs and shops where everything is done one computers. This means real labs and shops with proper equipment and teachers who know how to do real things.
Not every person is going to be a computer programmer so students need to be be prepared for other careers and no not just cutting hair or driving trucks.
People in this country need to be trained how to make things again. Whether that be buildings or clothes or electronics or software.
The schools should be studying what the workforce needs now as well as what it might need thirty years from now.
None of this is being done. Instead the schools focus on these inane multiple choice tests. We are basically back to pre 1960s rote learning techniques.
I am glad my children are grown and not in this school system. I would be a very frustrated parent.