High Stakes Testing Report and Proposed Bills: What Might Change?

olive-42906_1280Education Commissioner Pam Stewart issued her report on high stakes testing in Florida.  Yes, students are tested too much.  Some testing can be eliminated.  Which ones?

Are the recommendations meaningful or just a peace offering?  The report lists the number of days of required statewide testing as seven or fewer, but districts have many more mandated tests.  Their tests, however, tend to be used to diagnose learning problems as students progress throughout the year.

Senators Montford and Legg have filed bills to modify the Florida Accountability System. Their views differ, particularly on the dates for implementing the accountability measures for school grades and teacher evaluations. Both bills address district readiness capacity for computer based testing.

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Report on Feb 9, 2015 Court Hearing

The issue before the court in my lay person’s was precisely this: If the court finds that teachers, school administrators, parents, students and taxpayers have no standing to challenge the legislature’s indirect funding of Florida’s Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship program, who in the state of Florida does?

In Leon County Court yesterday appearing before County Circuit Judge George Reynolds III, the state and intervenors argued that because corporate tax payments are diverted before they enter state tax coffers the money is “exempt” from other regulation or compliance with constitutional restrictions. Their argument was that tax credits issued to corporations that elect to contribute to the FTC program are the same as other contributions to 501 c-3 entities and therefore opening the program up to scrutiny would extend the issue to ALL 501 c-3 contributions.
The judge summarized their argument by stating that “the money never became public” so taxpayers have no standing. The defendants also argued that just because funds are paid into the treasury or are due the treasury it does not follow that all or a specific portion of that money would flow through to public schools. Therefore there was no special injury. In fact, they argued that by sending students to private schools at a lesser cost the state benefitted from the program and school districts had lower costs.
The plaintiffs (the LWV of Florida is joined as a plaintiff) argued, that the state cannot do indirectly what it is constrained from doing directly referring to the FL Supreme Court decision of 2006 in Bush v. Holmes that found Opportunity Scholarships unconstitutional. While it was evident that the judge was eager to argue the merits of the case, the hearing was to establish standing for the plaintiffs and the merits were not relevant at this time. Ron Meyer and John West for the plaintiffs kept following the train of funding through to public schools related to the reduction in students enrolled and diverted through the FTC program. It was a difficult argument to make because funding fluctuates and is an established purview of the legislature.
The judge summarized their case by comparing the issue to a fuel truck with a load of fuel, but the truck was diverted prior to delivery thereby depriving the initial recipient of fuel. Once again the judge showed a desire to get into the merits, but, of course, the standing of the plaintiffs must be established.
One other issue that seemed to give the judge pause was his prior decision of several weeks earlier granting standing to the case represented by the Southern Legal Counsel titled Citizens for Strong Schools v. DOE. The LWV of Florida had contemplated joining as plaintiff, but the judge determined that the timing was too late and no additional interest was served. The third suit wherein, Judge Francis had found no standing was Faase v. Legislature and this case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled. Judge Reynolds will have to reconcile these competing opinions and actions in his final ruling.
Judge Reynolds directed attorneys for both sides to draft a final order favoring their case within ten days for his final review. This is a common approach in a case of this type. There was no indication of how he might decide or a final date given.
The audience was comprised of many interested parties. Teachers, college students, parents, children, league members, P.T. A. representative, Neil Chonin and Jodi Seigel from the Southern Legal Counsel, NAACP, Florida School Boards Assoc., and the list goes on. We will continue to follow and post information on this topic.

The Horns of a Dilemma?

bull-155411_640Over and over we hear that testing narrows the curriculum, provokes anxiety rather than enthusiasm for learning, drives teachers out of the classroom, all in the name of improving student achievement.

Why do so many educators and politicians persist in an approach whose effectiveness is yet to be validated?  A clearly articulated rationale for annual testing is needed.  One appeared in the New York Times written by a former advisor to the U.S. Department of Education.  It lays out the administration’s rationale.


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Another Bill to Review Federal and State Testing Policies

dmbtestA new bill has been introduced in Congress to reduce testing.  This one funds efforts by states to review and eliminate redundant and low quality tests.  It is sponsored by Senator Baldwin (WI) and Representative Bonamici (OR).


The bill is called the “Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely (SMART)” act.  According to Rep. Bonamici’s website, the bill has bipartisan support.  The press release does not explain why states would need federal money to do a review of their tests.


This bill is quite different from the Gibson and Sinema bill that seeks to reduce federally mandated annual assessments.

LWV Press Release: Florida’s Tax Credit Vouchers in Court February 9th

justiceThe Florida League issued a press release today in advance of the scheduled court hearing on Monday, February 9th of McCall et al vs. Scott et al.  The League is a plaintiff in this case against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships to private, mostly religious schools.

A previous lawsuit against the expansion of the FTC scholarships  was dismissed by Judge Francis.  That suit, Faase vs. Scott, claimed that the procedures used to pass the bill on the  last day of the  session were illegal.  The judge ruled that no significant harm was done by the political maneuvers.  We hope the outcome will be different.


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Difference Between U. S. House and Senate Education Bills

congress-74032_1280The Senate version of the education bill (See: US Senator Lamar Alexandar Bill ) and the House version differ mostly on the requirements for achievement testing.

The House version is a reintroduction of last year’s Student Success Act.  Both version emphasize returning control to the states.

A summary of the House version follows.  We will track the bills.  Check Legislative Updates on the rotating banner for the blog.  It is the photo of the green chalkboard.

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SB 616 Filed to Reduce Testing Impact

dmbtestSenate Education Chairman, John Legg, filed SB 616 to limit testing time and reduce the impact of achievement gain scores on teacher evaluations.

There is also a district option for changing how State assessment results are reported for 2014-15.

Will the bill have a meaningful impact on the amount of testing that is required?  Given that districts must still do local testing in courses not covered in statewide assessments, it is not clear how the number of tests will be reduced.

Testing and learning have always been intertwined.  The question at hand is how much testing and for which purposes should tests be used?  The legislators are listening.  Send them your thoughts.

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