A bill that would eliminate the majority of high school end of course exams, allow schools to give the remaining statewide tests in a paper-and-pencil format and seeks to take student test scores out of the grading equation for teachers and schools has begun to make the rounds in Florida’s capital.
Sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also runs the state superintendents association, the bill has bipartisan backing.
The last time a test was eliminated
Anti-testing sentiment has been brewing statewide, as it has nationally, for years. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged that students in public schools have to take too many tests and then cut one of them from the line up: the state’s language arts test for high school juniors. He also tweaked some rules that put the burden of chipping away further tests on the districts while the state lineup remained the same.
Montford’s bill (SB 964/HB 1249) has considerably more breadth.
It would eliminate the Florida Standards Assessment in grade 9, all end-of-course exams except for Algebra 1 and Biology. It seeks to find alternates for other statewide exams in high school, such as the ACT or SAT.
It would push testing back to the last weeks of the school year.
And, by allowing for pencil-and-paper testing, it could free up weeks of time in classrooms. (Because schools don’t have the computers or bandwidth to test all students at once, testing schedules are currently weeks-long windows during which students rotate through testing.)
“This is the first time since the 1999 passage of the A+ bill that we’ve had a bipartisan bill that, in Sen. (David) Simmons‘ words, restores sanity in teaching and testing,” said Vern Pickup-Crawford, who is lobbying on behalf of the Palm Beach County School District.
It isn’t the only legislation that purports to respond to the appeals to dial back testing.
About a month ago, three lawmakers unveiled what they have dubbed the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, a name that is a nod to its supporters in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future.
Despite its name, that legislation (SB 926/ HB 773) doesn’t explicitly do away with any state required exam.
It seeks to examine the possibility of replacing tests required for high school graduation with the ACT or SAT college entrance exams, if they align with Florida’s standards. It also pushes testing back closer to the end of the school year and seeks quicker turn around for test results.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican scheduled to become speaker of the House after the 2020 elections was quoted by News Service of Florida:
“We got the message from parents and teachers about how they feel about the testing process, the anxiety that some of their students feel, and really the common-sense approach of what kind of tools they need to make sure that their children and their students are getting a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time.”
A critic’s take
Testing critic Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the group FairTest, calls Montford’s legislation “a step in the right direction.”
“It is a much better bill from an assessment reform standpoint in that it actually does something. Florida is among the worst (states) in test use and over use. The Montford bill is an attempt for compromise and it somewhat reflects concerns of the grass roots assessment reform movement.”
Those concerns? The volume of testing and the consequences.
“It’s very impressive that he was able to get that many Republicans, significant Republicans, to break the Jeb Bush lockstep.”
Montford’s co-sponsors: Community Affairs chairman and former Senate president Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Education committee vice chairwoman Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach; Children, Families and Elder Affairs chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; and Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando.
An identical version of the bill was filed in the House by Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello.
Still, Schaeffer isn’t getting his hopes up.
“I think it’s a good start. Tallahassee is starting to listen,” Schaeffer said. But it’s not enough to write the bill, it must move forward. “It’s whatever leadership decides. I don’t know that (they) have made this a priority.”