Miami-Dade County

Gov. Rick Scott orders less testing in Florida’s public schools

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, acknowledging the ongoing backlash over the amount of testing in the state’s public schools, said he will suspend a test scheduled to be given to 11th graders this spring.

Scott is making the move following an investigation into standardized testing he requested last year on the campaign trail. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart completed the inquiry this week. Her top recommendation: eliminate the English and reading test given to high school juniors.

“It’s important to measure students’ progress and achievements, but we must not lose sight of our goal to provide every student with the very best education,” Scott said in a written statement on Wednesday. “As I have traveled the state, I have heard from parents and teachers that there are too many tests, and I agree.”

After compiling information submitted to the state by the state’s 67 school districts, Stewart found that the time dedicated to state-mandated testing has gone up in several grades but not every grade. The amount of testing for 10th graders, for example, dropped from nearly 10 hours in 2007 to four-and-a-half hours this school year.

But the inquiry found that testing rose sharply in this school year over the one that ended last summer. That coincided with rising frustration over testing, leading the Lee County school board to vote last August to opt out of statewide testing. The board reversed the decision a week later.

Stewart said there is no need for the 11th grade test because high school students are already required to pass the 10th grade version in order to graduate.

“We have the information we need,” Stewart said.

Scott plans to issue an executive order halting the test with the expectation that the Florida Legislature this spring will pass a law that permanently eliminates it.

Florida first expanded the use of high-stakes standardized tests in grades 3 through 10 as part of changes pushed into law by former Gov. Jeb Bush. But over the years more tests have been added — including end-of-course exams in subjects such algebra, geometry and United States history.

State legislators say they have heard plenty of complaints from parents and teachers, and were already looking at revamping testing requirements during the upcoming session. Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity and chairman of the Senate education committee, was holding a three-hour hearing to discuss testing proposals when the governor made his announcement.

During that hearing legislators heard suggestions from parents, teachers and school superintendents that the state should consider pausing existing parts of the Bush education law while the state transitions to a new test.

School superintendents such as Alberto Carvalho from Miami-Dade added that eliminating the 11th grade test was a “good move” by the governor. Legg, however, said he wasn’t sure if legislators would go along with eliminating the test saying it was “one of those options we are seriously looking at.”

Eliminating the 11th grade test isn’t Stewart’s only recommendation to Scott and the Legislature. She also called for making optional a college readiness test now given in the 11th grade and eliminating final exams in classes that also require a statewide end-of-course exam.

Testing critics, however, said Scott’s actions and Stewart’s recommendations don’t go far enough.

“The modest remedies proposed today are nowhere near sufficient to address the scope of the problem,” said Robert Schaeffer with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “Suspending a few state-mandated exams and encouraging districts to follow suit will still leave Florida public schools dominated by testing overkill.”

On the web: Fla. Department of Education Assessment Investigation Reporte, Feb. 18, 2015

Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout

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