Miami-Dade schools to push state for delay, changes in testing policies

09/03/2014 6:55 PM

10/01/2014 8:24 PM

The largest school district in Florida agreed Wednesday to push the state for more time to implement new standardized tests and for other changes in testing policies that have drawn increasing backlash.

“This is a win for common sense and for kids, and it may take a little while, but I think what you’re hearing across the state is a tsunami of growing consciousness,” Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told reporters shortly after School Board members agreed to a series of recommendations he offered.

Tests — who takes them, how often and what the results are used for — have come under withering criticism in Florida, especially in light of the decision last month by the Lee County School Board to opt out of all state tests. The move was promptly rescinded, but the action of the school district that includes Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast has nonetheless pushed the issue into prominence.

Miami-Dade School Board members agreed Wednesday that no testing is not an option.

“This is an imperfect accountability system, but to say that we don’t need an accountability system is to say we don’t need to count every child,” said board member Carlos Curbelo.

Among the recommendations the board accepted Wednesday are that the district:

• Urge the state not to count test scores toward student promotions, school grades and teacher evaluations for students in their first year of learning English.
• Revisit the time line to implement new tests — some of which have yet to be developed. The district is facing a crunch to come up with hundreds of tests, as mandated by the state, to be used for teacher evaluations.
• Demand that field-testing of new exams takes place in Florida — not in Utah, as is currently the plan.

Carvalho said the district could now start lobbying elected officials for the changes and unite with other school boards and community members that have similar concerns.

Board member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway called for more-concrete action.

“It’s just been talk. Talk, talk, talk,” he said. “Now we’ve got to move, not as extreme as other districts have done, but we’ve got a responsibility now to do something.”

In other business Wednesday, School Board members:

• Approved the district’s lengthy testing schedule. Out of 180 school days, the district will administer assessments on all but eight days. Not every student, of course, sits for every exam, and most of the assessments on the calendar are required by the state or federal governments. District officials pointed out that the average third-grader will have to take only four tests that are 90 minutes each.
• Approved a budget and tax rate for the new fiscal year. The $2.9 billion budget includes a slightly reduced property tax rate. Under the approved tax rate of $7.97 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value, the typical homeowner with a taxable property value of $157,000 would pay about $1,250. The budget would boost reserves by $35 million and protect teaching jobs, according to the district.
• Approved contracts to administer the district’s insurance plans for employees. Carvalho told the Miami Herald the insurance plans will save employees about $160 a year. “We want to buck the trend of astronomical healthcare increases,” he said.

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