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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Education commissioner's new advisory committee to meet Friday

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart's new advisory panel, the Keep Florida Learning Committee, will have its inaugural meeting via conference call starting at 9 a.m. Friday.

The 11-member group will talk about its public role, covering such things as Sunshine Laws, before setting its guiding principles. Stewart already has made clear she expects that, at a minimum, the committee will review "further deregulation opportunities for the school system, reviewing the instructional material review processes used by school boards, identifying strategies to increase parental involvement in education, and reviewing the implementation of the Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessment."

Interested in keeping tabs on the members, who include lawmakers, school board members and school leaders in addition to two parents? The meeting will be webcast from the FLDOE website.

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What did Florida senators do about third grade retentions?

After lengthy, sometimes confusing debate Wednesday over Florida's testing and its consequences, the state Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a proposal that would change the rules relating to third-grade retention.

Reports quickly emerged that the state where likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush launched third-grade retentions based on reading test performance was about to suspend the practice. "If Florida lawmakers agree to the change, it would mark a major departure from a policy pushed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush who decried 'social promotion' when he campaigned for governor," the Associated Press wrote.

So what exactly did the Senate panel adopt? Its language refers to how test results will be used in the transition to new Florida Standards Assessments (see the TRANSITION section of the main bill, starting at line 493). The amendment reads: …

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Florida education news: Third-grade promotion, athletics, music teachers and more

TESTING: The Florida Senate Appropriations Committee tackles third grade promotion issues as it advances a testing reform bill with some key differences from the House version.

STUDENT ATHLETICS: High school athletics officials have strong reservations about a bill in the Florida House that would change oversight of high school sports.

ADVISORY PANEL: Pasco County resident Megan Hendricks says she wants to find ways to make people proud of public education again as she sits on the Keep Florida Learning committee.

JOINING FORCES: The Pasco school district plans to join a coalition of Central Florida school boards to help set regional priorities.

ARRESTED: A Manatee middle school student is arrested on charges of battery against a teacher, the Bradenton Herald reports.

POLITICS: A Collier School Board member raises concerns that teachers are using district email to promote political causes, the Naples Daily News reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Palm Beach School Board has one week remaining to receive candidate applications for superintendent, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Florida Senate finds compromise on testing

Florida lawmakers may have found a middle ground on the controversial subject of student testing.

A Senate panel tweaked its testing bill Wednesday so that the results of this year’s Florida Standards Assessments would not be used to determine whether third-grade students can be promoted to the fourth grade, or high-school students can graduate until an independent review of the exam is conducted.

The amendment was intended to be a compromise between Republican lawmakers who have vowed not to retreat on school accountability, and the parents and educators who have asked for a pause while Florida transitions to new academic standards and assessments. Their outcry has only grown louder since the state botched the roll-out of the online writing exams earlier this month.

"We want to do two things," said Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who proposed the amendment. "We want to make sure students are being tested but not overtested, and whatever test instrument is used is reliable and valid." …

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Zephyrhills High imposes restroom restrictions, gets direction to change them

Hoping to curtail vandalism and class skipping, Zephyrhills High School leaders announced Tuesday that students would not be allowed to leave classrooms during the first and last 10 minutes of any period. During the rest of the period, they would need to have an administrator escort them -- including to the restroom. 

The outcry was immediate.

"Welcome to Zephyrhills High School were we are treated like elementary kids," one student tweeted.

Parent Myra Binnicker complained to superintendent Kurt Browning. "This policy is an abuse in itself," she wrote in an e-mail. "If my daughter is sitting there waiting and waiting, I am going to instruct her to get up and walk out. If she is punished for it, I will press the issue. She never gets in no trouble. She is a good student. There is zero reason she should be put in this position."

Principal Andy Frelick, who imposed a similar rule in 2009 at Ridgewood High, explained his stance in a note to area superintendent Monica Ilse:

We have a really serious problem with kids in the halls during class.  Either they are skipping or the teachers are letting them out.   …

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Orlando third grader urges Florida lawmakers to pause testing consequences

A growing number of Florida school children are raising their voices in the state's testing debate, hoping to be heard in a discussion that so many people say is about them.

One Orlando third grader emailed several lawmakers, urging them to consider adopting an amendment that would halt test-based third-grade retention, high school graduation and school grading decisions until the test is validated.

Claire, whose mom asked that her last name not be used, pointed to problems in the sample test the state provided as an example of the problems that exist. Here's her email:

My name is Claire.  I'm in the 3rd Grade.  I don't have a big letter.  I just want to show you a question on my practice FSA.  I had a LOT to choose from because there's a LOT of problems with this test.

I think it's weird you haven't seen the real test.  I don't know anyone that buys anything without looking at it - especially how much you had to pay!  

Even though you can't see the real test you can still see the practice ones.  Have you taken any of the practice tests?  Have you even looked at them?  …

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Rep. Adkins revives Facebook testing debate

Floridians hoping to influence state House K-12 committee chairwoman Rep. Janet Adkins' views on testing via Facebook were disappointed when the Fernandina Beach Republican abruptly deleted a lengthy, detailed thread on the subject.

Adkins explained that she wanted to hear peoples' views. "Once the Facebook thread became a political conversation as opposed to authentic interaction with teachers and stakeholders I decided the thread was no longer fruitful and deleted it from my Facebook account," she said via e-mail.

Critics bashed Adkins, suggesting she had somehow killed a public record and contending she wasn't interested in the thoughts of those who disagree with her. Some even launched a Facebook page called The Janet Project, stating it was "dedicated to the posting and discussion of public communication censored from the social media of elected officials and public organizations." …

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Florida education news: Testing, sports, raises and more

TESTING: Lake County schools scrap several local end-of-course exams, following Orange and Seminole, the Daily Commercial reports. • Some Southwest Florida residents protest the way the state uses standardized testing, NBC 2 reports. More from the Naples Daily News. • About 1,400 Orange County students attend spring break camps to prepare for state tests, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: Legislation in the Florida House looks to overhaul the governance of high school athletics, the Miami Herald reports. 

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Some Collier charter school leaders say they would like to keep the 5 percent administrative fee they pay to the school district, Fox 4 reports. • The Polk School Board plans to appeal a state-level approval of a new charter school, the Ledger reports.

MORE MEMBERS: A Manatee County commissioner calls the local School Board dysfunctional and suggests adding two at-large members, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Indian River School Board offers its next superintendent choice a salary higher than the outgoing leader, the Vero Beach Press-Journal reports. …

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Never mind about those principal transfers

Maria Gsell will remain as principal of East Bay High School

Maria Gsell will remain as principal of East Bay High School

We reported, based on the March 3 Hillsborough County School Board agenda, that Maria Gsell would leave East Bay High School to become principal of Hillsborough High School.

But it didn't turn out that way.

Gsell will remain at East Bay, as community members hoped she would.

That leaves Hillsborough High looking for a principal.

The plan was for Johan von Ancken, Hillsborough's former principal, to move  to East Bay. Instead, Von Ancken was named administrator on special assignment. According to district spokesman Stephen Hegarty, the change was part of a domino effect as Denny Oest was promoted to assistant superintendent and Leslie Granich, also an administrator on special assignment, replaced Oest as director of leadership for secondary education.




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Florida education leaders raise more testing concerns

With two weeks of computerized writing tests in the rearview mirror, Florida's superintendents are taking a closer look at what went wrong -- and what it means.

They're more concerned than ever that the results will be tainted.

In a draft document circulating through district offices, the Florida Association for District School Superintendents raises six "serious concerns" that it wants state leaders to consider. The issues coincide with some of the validity questions discussed by national experts in the aftermath of students' widespread problems logging in and finishing the Florida Standards Assessment exam.

Here's a sample:

Issue 1:  Test Administrator and student logins timing out and receiving run-time errors. …

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Florida House panel advances bill to expand open enrollment statewide

A measure to further open the door to more public school choice (HB 1145) found broad bipartisan support as it moved through its first Florida House committee on Tuesday.

Even the Democrats who voted against the bill to allow students to transfer into any school in the state that has available seats called the legislation "great" in that it provides more academic opportunities for children.

"I'm fascinated by it," Aventura Democrat Rep. Joe Geller said of the bill. "But I think we need to let it cook a little longer before we serve it."

Geller raised concerns about the unknown. He wanted more information about how many families might take advantage of the chance to change schools, and how that might affect schools' scheduling, hiring and financial planning. He also worried about a provision in the bill that would allow districts to hire "adjunct" teachers without certification.

"Teaching is a profession. We need to treat it as a profession," he said. "You can be the greated chemist in the world. But that doesn't mean you can reach a 10th grader."

Even the members who backed the bill had some reservations. …

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Report calls for more need-based financial aid

There's been a lot of talk about college affordability in the early days of the legislative session.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has made the issue a top priority -- and is pushing both a textbook tax cut and legislation that would prohibit universities from raising graduate-school tuition.

On Monday, the Senate Higher Education Committee approved a proposal by Sen Anitere Flores, R-Miami, that would accomplish those goals and require colleges and universities to publish the cost of each course before the semester begins (SB 938). The House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee is scheduled to take up a similar proposal on Wednesday.

But a national non-profit organization says there is still work to be done.

A report issued Tuesday by the Young Invincibles showed that tuition at Florida's four-year public institutions had grown by 67 percent since 2007, "the second highest increase in the country during that time period." 

The report also noted that funding for Bright Futures Scholarships had dipped in recent years as lawmakers raised the standards the awards -- and that universities had asked for an additional $45 million to provide scholarships for low-income students. …

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Florida education news: Open enrollment, guns, hazing and more

SCHOOL CHOICE: Florida lawmakers consider expanding open enrollment beyond school district borders.

GUNS ON CAMPUS: Another Florida Senate committee okays a bill to let superintendents select people to carry concealed weapons at schools, the News Service of Florida reports.

REFORM: Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho says educators don't have time to wait to make needed education changes, the Taunton Gazette reports.

HAZING: A Martin high school student is arrested for alleged hazing during a club initiation, the AP reports.

PARENT VOICES: The Manatee school district looks to get more parent input on key decisions, the Bradenton Herald reports. • Some Alachua parents remain upset with plans to close their community schools, the Gainesville Sun reports.

CANCELED: The Manatee School Board calls off a special meeting after warnings from its superintendent and lawyer, the Bradenton Herald reports.

STANDARDS: The Common Core remains controversial across the nation as the 2016 presidential race heats up, Scripps reports.

HELPING HAND: Private donors contribute about $12 million to Orange County schools for academic projects, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Florida senator would temporarily halt test-based third-grade retentions, graduation decisions

A conservative Florida senator with a flair for headline-grabbing proposals could generate lots of support in the anti-testing sector with his latest recommendation.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has filed an amendment to the Senate's major testing reform bill (SB 616) that goes to its final committee stop on Thursday, with availability Wednesday. His objective: To end third-grade retentions, graduation decisions and school grades based on state standardized test scores until the tests are more thoroughly vetted as valid. 

The recommendation, in relevant part, states: 

(c) The statewide, standardized assessments may not be used to determine grade 3 retention pursuant to s. 1008.25(3); high school graduation pursuant to s. 1003.4282; personnel evaluations pursuant to s. 1012.34; and school grades pursuant to s. 1008.34 until:  …

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Florida Department of Education reminds school districts to follow hiring procedures

Hardly a week goes by that we don't read a story about a teacher getting arrested for a bad act. It's not that these things didn't happen before, but nowadays they get reported more frequently and publicly.

And unlike in the past, the idea of quietly counseling someone out of a district and then letting them move to another place is pretty much history.

And that's the way it should be, the Florida Department of Education is reminding school districts. In a memo to school and district leaders, education commissioner Pam Stewart repeated expectations that districts conduct thorough background checks of all employee applicants and also help out their counterparts when asked for references.

"Educator misconduct and unsatisfactory evaluations that must be reported to the Florida Department of Education (department) must also be reported in response to employment inquiries by other districts to the extent they are not protected by statutory confidentiality provisions," Stewart wrote.

It's not just a suggestion, she added. It's the law. …

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