One down, more to go

FILE ART: Language arts students from Carver Middle School in Coconut Grove prepare to take a state-mandated test.
FILE ART: Language arts students from Carver Middle School in Coconut Grove prepare to take a state-mandated test. MIAMI HERALD

Across the state, thousands of 11th graders, teachers, parents and school administrators breathed a sigh of relief last week. They finally got a break — from Gov. Rick Scott.

Reacting to the backlash over the amount of testing in the state’s public schools, the governor announced that he will issue an executive order — yes, an executive order — to suspend a test scheduled to be given to juniors this spring.

The governor’s forceful first move shows he’s hearing the outcry over all the “bubbling in” at public schools. But more important, according to Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who has championed the idea of less testing, the governor’s announcement as the Florida legislative session is only a week away, should set the tone for its educational agenda.

“This is a very encouraging position being taken by the governor that will likely stimulate more action,” Mr. Carvalho told the Editorial Board.

The Legislature should follow the governor’s lead and pass a law that permanently eliminates the test in question. In the Senate, similar measures are being considered by the Education Committee, led by John Legg, a Republican from Pasco County. And when members of the Miami-Dade delegation recently met with the Editorial Board, they, too, expressed concern with “over-testing.” Overall, state legislators say they have heard plenty of complaints from parents and teachers and are ready to look at revamping testing requirements during the upcoming session. Hope they’re serious.

For the governor, the announcement is part of a campaign promise. He had asked Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to lead a probe into testing practices. Her main recommendation: Eliminate the English Language Arts test given to high school juniors.

Ms. Stewart said there is no need for the 11th-grade test because students are already required to pass the 10th-grade version in order to graduate. It’s surprising that this realization comes to light now.

“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,” Gov. Scott said in a written statement on Wednesday. That means teachers should not teach to a test but about the world. How refreshing.

Mr. Carvalho said it was about time this particular test met its death. Although it did not affect a student’s graduation, doing poorly on the test could harm the student’s grade-point average, teacher performance and school grading.

Members of the Florida Education Association in Tallahassee also praised Mr. Scott’s move, but told the Board that he didn’t go far enough.

“There is still so much testing that removing this one test doesn’t make a big difference,” FEA Vice President Joanne McCall said.

But any further revisions should be the result of a thoughtful and thorough assessment of the battery of tests students must take. Indeed, how well students are learning and teachers are teaching must be evaluated regularly, and much good came out of the FCAT, which has been retired. However, there needs to be a fair, credible and consistent approach taken. For too many years, lawmakers have changed the testing standards, year after year, willy-nilly.

The deluge of tests has become a sore point since the state expanded the use of high-stakes standardized tests in grades 3 through 10 as part of changes pushed into law by former governor and now-presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.

There’s little doubt that state tests need to be rethought. We commend Gov. Scott for firing a flare signaling that he supports fewer, rather than more of them.