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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco's magnet school planning delayed, for now

Plans to offer more magnet school options to Pasco County students face a time crunch, because of technical problems.

District officials intended to survey parents about theme preferences in recent weeks, and make recommendations for the School Board's consideration by October.

The survey has yet to go out though. Steve Williams, director of teaching and learning, said the people creating the online questionnaire ran into technology troubles.

Time is of the essence, though, because the staff would have to analyze results, figure out what they can reasonably do and bring a proposal to the School Board -- all in time for the district to run a December application process, as it did for its Sanders STEAM magnet last year.

Williams said he expected to have the survey on the district website as soon as the issues are worked through.

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How much testing is too much for Pasco County schools?

New quarterly tests might be too much for Pasco County teachers and students to deal with, United School Employees of Pasco president Kenny Blankenship told the School Board on Tuesday.

The tests -- scheduled to begin this week in high schools and Oct. 12-23 on other campuses -- take critical decision making away from classroom teachers, who know better than district administrators when students need assessing and what type is best, Blankenship said. 

Although the district eliminated some tests, he said, "Teachers are asking, what can we do about those tests that have been increased?"

Superintendent Kurt Browning defended the "quarterly checks" as a quick method to determine whether students are learning the standards taught in the most recent nine weeks. He likened them to a chapter test or unit quiz.

"It is like going to the doctor and having a thermometer put in your mouth to see if you have a fever," Browning said. "If it impacts classrooms at all, it is negligible." …

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Making the case: Superintendents prepare to fill next Florida Board of Education meeting

The Florida Board of Education regularly gives a representative from the state's superintendents association time to speak at each board meeting.

Next time, the board might need to have extra seats available.

The association has urged as many members as possible to attend the next BOE meeting, Oct. 28 in Kissimmee.

"Given our stance of late, I think it would be prudent to have several in attendance," association lobbyist Joy Frank told superintendents via email.

Many superintendents have taken to newspaper columns to express their growing concerns about grading schools without the use of learning gains, which aren't available. Among others, the leaders of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco districts penned a joint piece, while Manatee's superintendent had a solo op-ed.

Department of Education officials, along with some lawmakers, so far have been unyielding on the superintendents' proposals, which other organizations have echoed. They've suggested the district leaders have called for a grading "time out," "pause" or "moratorium" enough times over the years to make their current position nothing new. …

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Florida education news: Barbershops, school boards, impact fees and more

EXTRA HELP: Hillsborough school leaders ask area barbers to work with their young customers in the district's effort to curb school discipline problems.

SCHOOL BOARDS: An Escambia School Board member resigns for personal reasons, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Lake School Board delays its vote on a new charter school application amid concerns over the school's finances, the Daily Commercial reports.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDING: Brevard County commissioners consider increasing school impact fees by 15 percent, Florida Today reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: A top Duval district administrator plans to challenge Clay's incumbent superintendent, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TRANSPORTATION: State lawmakers order an audit of Palm Beach's troubled school busing department, the Palm Beach Post reports.

BONUSES: The Florida Education Association investigates its options to sue over the state's Best and Brightest program, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CLASS SIZE: The Lake school district is trying to comply with state class size requirements after missing the mark last year, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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Keep your $250, some Pasco teachers say

Every year, Florida teachers get about $250 from the state to offset out-of-pocket expenses for classroom supplies

This year, some Pasco County teachers are saying they don't want the money. It's their response to a district memo requiring them to scan and submit all receipts associated with their purchases.

If they don't turn in the receipts by April 1, the money would be deducted from their paycheck and sent to their school's advisory committee account instead.

"So much for USEP negotiating a reduction in paperwork!" one angry teacher said.

The upshot, according to the school district, has been an unexpected request. "Some teachers have asked if they can reject the money," employee relations director Betsy Kuhn.

At first, the district considered giving the money for teachers and then having them write a check back. Instead, Kuhn said, the district created an opt-out format in the employee online access system. Those who opt out would have their share sent to their school's SAC.

So far, the choice has been little used, Kuhn said. But the inquiries started coming late last week and again on Monday.

The district made the requirement to comply with IRS reporting rules. …

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Will Florida teachers really get $10,000 from Best and Brightest bonus?

Approved in this year's legislative budget, Florida's Best and Brightest program promised teachers bonuses up to $10,000, if they could prove their eligibility.

The key phrases, of course, were "prove" and "up to." Proving eligibility turned out to be quite a task for many educators, who had to dig up years-old SAT or ACT scores.

If more than 4,400 teachers made the cut, the $44 million allocation would be split evenly among them. With 68,000-plus teachers rated "highly effective" across the state, that number could change dramatically.

A sampling of counties suggests the bonus is likely to be less than the $10,000 proposed.

By the inflexible Oct. 1 application deadline, more than 500 Hillsborough teachers had submitted their requests. About 250 Pasco teachers applied, as well as 215 from Pinellas, 207 from Duval, 673 in Palm Beach and 561 in Miami-Dade.

That's six counties, 2,200 applicants. Florida has 67 counties.

Just because someone applied doesn't mean they'll get the money. Districts have until December to determine which teachers met the mark, and then request funding from the Department of Education.

It might be a one-time thing. …

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Florida education news: Accountability, personalized learning, class size and more

ACCOUNTABILITY: As frustration mounts, education leaders wonder whether Florida's accountability model can last as-is. * New state test reports for students and parents won't provide key information, the Florida Times-Union reports.

LEARNING: A Gates grant allows the Pinellas school district to experiment with personalized learning for students.

BEST AND BRIGHTEST: About 1,400 south Florida teachers apply for the state's latest bonus program, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SKIN SAFETY: The Washington school district becomes the first in Florida to install sunblock dispensers in schools, the Washington County News reports.

CLASS SIZE: Lake district officials agree to pay penalties if they again violate state class size rules, the Daily Commercial reports.

LIFE LESSONS: The Duval school district asks a social organization to help more students learn about making choices, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Palm Beach students are warned that their social media posts could have consequences, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news roundup, week of Sept. 27

Testing continued to dominate state-level education discussions around Florida, as the state Department of Education issued preliminary Florida Standards Assessment results amid a rising chorus of requests to limit the use of the information. Florida's class size law got some added scrutiny, with a Palm Beach dad suing over the way his child's school implements the rules. And the Common Core started to resurface as a policy debate for candidates seeking state office. Read about these and other Florida education stories daily on the Gradebook. Have ideas for coverage? Send your comments to

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Many are not impressed as Florida releases first school test results, Jeffrey S. Solochek
Initial results from Florida's controversial new tests arrived at schools Wednesday amid a chorus of criticism that the data shouldn't count.
See school-by-school results and district level results. …

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Another view on Florida's proposed testing cut scores

When Florida's superintendents released their recommendations to revise the state education accountability laws, their original proposal relating to testing cut scores was notably absent.

While gone, though, it was far from forgotten.

As preliminary test results became public, Duval County superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who once headed the state accountability system, made clear in several public statements his disdain for the state's plan to increase proficiency cut scores.

He called it a betrayal of the position that many educators reluctantly accepted in 2011-12, when the state last increased FCAT cut scores. At that time, then-commissioner Gerard Robinson made the case that pushing the scores upward would help prepare students, parents and educators for the inevitable performance declines that would come when Florida moved to tougher Common Core-based tests a few years down the road.

"Now it seems as if everyone has had amnesia as to what the rationale was back then," Vitti told the Gradebook. …

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Florida education leaders continue to register concerns over state accountability

First came the superintendents. Next, the parents and the school boards.

Now, the Florida Association of School Administrators has joined the growing call for Florida to temporarily halt school grades while leaders sort out the concerns and questions surrounding state testing and accountability.

"District and school based administrators also question why we continue to push a high stakes test which was not administered the first time as a base year and was flawed in administration," FASA executive director Juhan Mixon wrote in a message to members early Friday. "We concur with the superintendents' conclusion that, 'There is no evidence that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is fully aligned to or measures Florida Standards.' And we echo the superintendents in asking for an 'extensive review of the accountability system.'"

Education commissioner Pam Stewart has stressed that she has no intention of withholding school grades. She pointed to a recent validity study, saying it verified the state assessments were an accurate way to measure students' mastery of Florida standards. …

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Florida education news: Attendance zones, dorm life, vacation days and more

REZONING: The Hernando School Board faces few complaints as it redraws school attendance zones.

DORM LIFE: New University of Tampa housing rules upset students.

DAYS OFF: The Orange School Board sets its first semester to end before winter break again, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

IN THE DARK: Parents at a Manatee middle school want to know why their principal was removed, the Bradenton Herald reports.

TESTING: Bay district officials call recently released state testing data "useless" for teachers, the Panama City News Herald reports.

NEVER ON TIME: A Palm Beach high school continues to have busing problems seven weeks into the academic year, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Education accountability system is 'broken,' Florida school board members say

Echoing a host of critics, the Florida School Board Association today joined a slew of education groups who are calling for an "overhaul" of the state's education accountability system because of the Florida Standards Assessments' botched debut last spring.

In a statement today, the group said it "firmly supports the Florida Standards and valid and reliable state assessments to measure student progress in mastering those standards.

"However, Florida school board members are deeply concerned about the integrity of Florida’s current accountability system, which they believe has continuously deteriorated," the group continued. "Additionally, the FSBA is concerned with the lack of trust from educators, students and the broader public in the fairness of statewide assessments and standards." …

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Best and Brightest application period ends today

Today's the deadline for Florida teachers to apply for the controversial Best and Brightest bonus that lawmakers created in the spring.

Since its inception, the $44 million fund had been subjected to criticism over its criteria -- it's based in part on teachers' SAT or ACT scores -- as well as teachers' ability to comply with the rules. Finding and securing official records documenting their years-old test scores has proven difficult for many, while others scrambled to take the tests in the limited time frame.

Many offended teachers said they wouldn't bother. Many others decided to jump through the hoops to bolster their balance sheets. If 4,400 teachers are deemed eligible, each could get a $10,000 bonus.

That amount could be much lower, though. The Legislature said the $44 million would be prorated if more than 4,400 qualify, so everyone gets a share.

How many applied? 

Districts are still collecting the information, which doesn't need to go to the state until December.  In a small indication, 244 Pasco County teachers had submitted paperwork to get the money, with one day to go. …

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Florida education news: Testing, superintendents, dads and more

TESTING: Florida schools get a first look at how their students performed on the spring Florida Standards Assessments.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Hernando School Board members debate whether to renegotiate superintendent Lori Romano's contract.

STRIKE UP THE BAND: Pasco River Ridge High gets a new band director with local roots.

DADS DAY: Fathers head to school as part of a statewide push to get them more involved, the Orlando Sentinel reports. More from the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

OVERSIGHT: A Duval student with autism goes missing from her school, the Florida Times-Union reports.

FUNDING: Lake County increases its school impact fee to one of the highest rates in Florida, the Daily Commercial reports.

COMMON CORE: Florida's academic standards could become a factor in state legislative races, Politico Florida reports.

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Where did your school fall in Florida's testing?

The Florida Standards Assessments results issued Wednesday show little more than how one school or district performed in comparison to another. In many ways, the outcomes align closely to socioeconomics.

Gains are not accounted for, nor are the actual performance against the academic standards.

Still, within the results you can see where a school had high percentages of students at the top of the scale, and those with high levels of students at the bottom.

Want to see the school by school results? See them here: ELA, MATH, ALGEBRA I, ALGEBRA II, GEOMETRY

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