Florida lawmakers may have found a middle ground on the controversial subject of student testing.
A Senate panel tweaked its testing bill Wednesday so that the results of this year’s Florida Standards Assessments would not be used to determine whether third-grade students can be promoted to the fourth grade, or high-school students can graduate until an independent review of the exam is conducted.
The amendment was intended to be a compromise between Republican lawmakers who have vowed not to retreat on school accountability, and the parents and educators who have asked for a pause while Florida transitions to new academic standards and assessments. Their outcry has only grown louder since the state botched the roll-out of the online writing exams earlier this month.
“We want to do two things,” said Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who proposed the amendment. “We want to make sure students are being tested but not overtested, and whatever test instrument is used is reliable and valid.”
The change led the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve the bill in a 15-1 vote. But it failed to win over the teachers union and some parents, who said the new language should have also prevented this year’s test scores from being used to determine teacher pay and school grades.
“It doesn’t seem to be saving students from the high-stakes decisions,” said Karen Effrem, of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.
The overall bill (SB 616) seeks to scale back on testing in public schools. It eliminates an 11th grade English test and removes a requirement that school systems give final exams in every subject not covered by the Florida Standards Assessments.
Initially, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, had proposed an amendment to prevent this year’s test scores from being used from all accountability purposes until the assessments could be deemed valid.
His idea found support from the teachers, school districts and parents in the audience Wednesday. But Hays ultimately withdrew it from consideration, saying Simmons had come up with something better.
Simmons’ amendment would require school districts to notify the parents of third-grade students who performed poorly on the state tests, and to provide additional support for the children in the fourth grade. But they would not be retained for failing the test, as is required by state law.
It was not clear if the Legislature would require high-school students to take a different standardized test to meet the state graduation requirement. Simmons said he was looking into the matter.
Still, whether the Florida House, which passed its version of the testing bill in a 115-0 vote last week, would accept the compromise remains to be seen.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, has repeatedly said he will not retreat on education accountability, an important pillar of likely GOP presidential candidate and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s legacy.
Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, acknowledged that House and Senate two testing bills had significant differences.
He said talks between the two chambers had already begun.
“I think we’ve incorporated many of their good ideas into the bill already,” he said. “This is is a process where we work together, and we will work together.”
Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com