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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to legislation aimed at rolling back testing for public school students in Florida, even as critics argued the wide-ranging measure doesn’t go far enough to ease the burdens of high-stakes exams.
The House passed the measure (HB 7069) with a 105-6 vote, with a handful of Democrat peeling off from bipartisan support for the bill. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto.
The bill puts a hold on the use of student test data for school grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion to fourth grade until the new Florida Standards Assessments can be independently validated. It also scraps a law requiring school districts to come up with end-of-course tests in classes where the state doesn’t administer such exams; caps the amount of time students can spend on state and school district tests at 45 hours a year; and reduces the portion of a teacher’s evaluation tied to student performance from the current 50 percent to one-third.
The House vote likely ends the Legislature’s debate on what to do this year about long-running complaints of over-testing, magnified more recently amid a meltdown of the online testing platform used for some of the new assessments. But it is unlikely to cut off discussion of the system of high-stakes exams that have been the bedrock of the state’s education accountability movement.
The Foundation for Florida’s Future, an organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush that plays an influential role in education policy, praised lawmakers for approving the bill.
“They voted to keep education transparent and provide teachers with the information they need to help students learn, while ensuring testing at every level is done thoughtfully,” said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the foundation. “Florida lawmakers have shown it’s possible to achieve fewer, better tests while continuing to measure student success.”
The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, issued a more measured statement of support, saying the legislation “takes some steps to easing some of the many negative consequences that parents and teachers see coming from this drastic increase in testing.”
But the union also made clear it doesn’t believe the proposal goes far enough.
“We will need to continue to work to educate the public and lawmakers about standardized testing in Florida and be prepared to make further positive adjustments the next time the Legislature meets,” FEA President Andy Ford said.
Some Democrats who had voted for the bill the first time it came to the House reversed course on Thursday. House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said the state shouldn’t go forward with the new assessments until they’ve been properly tested.
“At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be exposing children and their futures to a system that’s unproven,” he told reporters after the vote.
But GOP lawmakers criticized them for voting against a bill that contained essentially everything that the House had included in its bill — and added the review of the FSA to boot.
“We passed (the House version) unanimously, and the only major difference in the Senate bill that came over that we’re taking up now is a safeguard that you all were asking for in the first place,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.
The complaints were not limited to the House floor. Shortly before the vote, Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, rallied against the bill for being too mild.
“We’re taxpaying citizens, and we say, this test is invalid,” Wilson, a former elementary school principal, said in a speech slamming the FSA. “… Somebody’s gotten rich off of all of this testing and I am sick of it.”
Standing outside the Senate chamber, Bullard, a teacher, called for Scott to suspend the use of the tests across the board. Scott has already temporarily suspended an 11th-grade language arts exam that would be permanently eliminated by the bill now on its way to Scott’s desk.
“I’m encouraging all the parents and all the listeners, all the readers, to call Gov. Scott and ask him to issue an executive order making this year’s FSA unnecessary, rendering it unnecessary, because unfortunately, legislators in this particular chamber and the chamber across the way seem not courageous enough to address the issue,” Bullard said.
The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.