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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – After years of confusion, a measure that would overhaul Florida’s school grading system and get schools ready for new tests is headed to the House floor after receiving overwhelming approval at its final committee stop.

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved the proposal (HB 7117) with a bipartisan, 11-2 vote on Monday. Modeled on a proposal by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the bill would streamline school grades and suspend punishment for school grades for one year while a new state assessment is rolled out.

The proposed changes come against the backdrop of years of disorder within the school grading system, including repeated steps by the State Board of Education to prevent school districts from dropping more than one letter grade in the wake of changes to the school report card formula.

The plan adopted Monday would alter the grading formula and do away with penalties schools could currently receive for the grades assigned in the 2014-15 school year. That move is in part an effort to make up for the state switching from the FCAT, now in use, to an exam crafted by the American Institutes for Research.

But some Democrats and educators have argued that a one year break is not long enough, especially since Stewart only selected AIR as the developer of the new test last week. Critics say a break of at least three years is needed.

“I think a one-year pause is still not going to be enough time… If we want this to be successful, we should not be rushing it,” said Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, a Maitland Democrat who voted against the plan.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, also calls for a longer phase-in, although President Andy Ford was largely conciliatory during remarks to the panel.

“A one-year hiatus is a good move,” Ford said. “We don’t think it’s long enough, but it is a step in the right direction, and we appreciate it.”

But Rep. Janet Adkins, the Fernandina Beach Republican who sponsored the bill, pushed back against a three-year transition.

“There’s always this kind of desire by the institution to have a greater period (of) transition time,” she said. “… I think what’s in the best interest of our students is creating that sense of urgency. Now, we want to hold our schools harmless. We want to make sure that we’ve got a smooth transition period.”

The Senate version (SB 1642) is scheduled for its last stop at the Appropriations Committee on Thursday before heading to the floor, if approved as expected.

This report is by Brandon Larrabee with The News Service of Florida.


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