Florida House unanimously approves testing bill
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The House unanimously approved legislation Wednesday aimed at lowering the number and importance of tests administered to Florida public-school students, shifting debate on this year's highest-profile education issue to the Senate.
Lawmakers voted 115-0 to pass the bill (HB 7069), which would eliminate an 11th-grade language arts test, bar final exams in classes for which the state or a local school district has end-of-course tests and make a college-readiness test given to some students optional.
The measure would also reduce how much of a teacher's evaluation is tied to student performance, from 50 percent to a third, and provide local districts more flexibility when it comes to testing.
"With the passage of this legislation, we have addressed legitimate concerns about student testing while maintaining a strong accountability system that promotes quality instruction in the classroom, increasing transparency to provide clear and consistent information, and maximizing flexibility for our local school districts," House Education Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, said in a statement issued after the vote.
Lawmakers were already discussing scaling back the amount of time spent on state and local exams before the botched rollout of the Florida Standards Assessment, a new online standardized test used by the state.
But the technology issues that plagued the Florida Standards Assessment --- which included slow log-in times earlier this month when the platform debuted and a later announcement by state officials that there had been a cyber-attack on the program --- have drawn new questions about state tests.
Groups that have traditionally taken opposite sides in education debates have agreed that the state's testing regime needs to be rolled back, though they disagree on the specifics. The Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has said the House proposal is better than similar Senate legislation but hasn't wholeheartedly endorsed either bill.
The Foundation for Florida's Future, an organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush that strongly backs education accountability, praised the House vote.
"Testing and cultivating a love of learning are not mutually exclusive," said Patricia Levesque, the foundation's executive director, in a statement. "Testing that supports students, our hardworking teachers and the information, time and creativity they need in the classroom is a good thing. We're thankful for the House's work to prioritize measurement that matters while making thoughtful adjustments on Florida's student-centered course to ensure student achievement continues to rise."
But Democrats used the final debate on the bill to highlight what they saw as shortcomings, a day after the House rejected a pair of Democratic amendments. Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, criticized the bill for not suspending the state's school-grading system for at least a year, given the new tests.
An amendment offered by Jones that would have done so was easily defeated Tuesday.
"We have a responsibility not to cause harm to our young people, not to cause harm to our communities. ... Today, I ask you to recognize the fact that we had an opportunity to do more, and we failed to do that," Jones said Wednesday.
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee is set to take up that chamber's version of the bill (SB 616) on Thursday.
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