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Fla. Bill Would Cap Testing, Cut Test Scores' Weight in Evaluations

A proposal from the leader of the Florida Senate education committee would cap the time schools spend administering state and local assessments to 5 percent of total school hours, and could allow some districts to avoid receiving A-F school grades from the state this school year .

In addition, the bill would cut the weight that student growth on state or local assessments has on  teachers' evaluations from the current 50 percent to 40 percent. 

Senate Bill 616 was filed Feb. 2 by Sen. John Legg, a Republican and chairman of the K-12 committee. It comes after extensive discussions about the role of standardized testing in the state.

Florida to a certain extent has become a focal point for anxiety about assessment nationwide. Nearly a month ago, the Florida Senate grilled state education Commissioner Pam Stewart and others during a hearing about the nature and cost of standardized testing in Florida. Senators raised concerns about the ability of the American Institutes for Research, which is providing the state with its assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards, to support districts if problems arise, as well as the total cost of state assessments. Late last month, Stewart warned in a letter that districts and teachers face punishment if they encourage students to skip the upcoming state exams


"Our students need an education environment that fosters innovation and creativity. This bill grants school districts the flexibility in creating this environment, without sacrificing accountability," Legg said in a statement on his website explaining Senate Bill 616.

Under Legg's proposal, districts could, by a majority vote of their school boards, seek to have student performance on new state standardized tests "for diagnostic and baseline purposes only." In other words, schools and districts could be granted a waiver from receiving A-F school grades for the 2014-15 school year from the state education department. (You may remember that last year state lawmakers agreed to suspend consequences from A-F grades for the 2014-15 school year, although the new law still required those grades to be published.)

However, in seeking such a waiver, districts would have to show a "unique or systemic implementation failure" of the state assessments, how they would fix the problem, and how they would still use diagnostic data from the test to improve instruction. So the bill seems to be written in such a way that districts wouldn't simply receive the waivers by asking for them. 

In addition, the bill would remove state requirements on local assessments for courses that aren't given statewide and give districts more flexibility in determining local assessments' weight in teacher evaluations. 

"In my view, there is overtesting," Legg told Orlando Sentinel reporter Leslie Postal.

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