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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Boundaries, special needs, computer coding and more

OVERHAUL: The Manatee school district prepares to review all its attendance zones in light of growth patterns, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SCIENCE LESSONS: A veteran Brevard teacher is named Florida middle school science teacher of the year, Florida Today reports.

SPECIAL NEEDS: A Manatee private preparatory school helping students with disabilities seeks to expand, the Bradenton Herald reports.

GUNS ON CAMPUS: A bill to allow people to carry weapons on Florida college campuses is disturbing, the Ocala Star-Banner editorializes.

COMPUTER CODING: State Board of Education chairman Gary Chartrand says the computer language should be taught in all Florida schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

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Florida education news: Turnarounds, accountability, school nutrition and more

TURNAROUND: Once-struggling Sanderlin Elementary School becomes one of Pinellas County's most in-demand magnet programs as its student results improve.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Florida needs to slow its move to new testing and be sure schools have time to prepare, the Times editorializes. • The state also should change its timing when releasing school grades to make them more relevant to parents, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

CHECKMATE: Students in Palm Beach's school chess program finish in the top 10 nationally, the Palm Beach Post reports.

SCHOOL LUNCH: Volusia and Flagler schools struggle to meet federal nutrition guidelines, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

COMING UP: The Fort Myers News-Press forecasts five key stories for the Lee School Board in 2015.

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Florida education news: Taxes, school grades, class size and more

JEB BUSH: The former Florida's run for president could be hampered by his adherence to the Common Core.

TAXES: Pasco County officials consider dropping the school district from a local infrastructure sales tax in future years.

BY THE NUMBERS: Check out the grades and graduation rates of Pinellas high schools.

ONE MORE TRY: The Gulf school district plans to appeal the state grade of Port St. Joe High School in hopes the FLDOE will overturn some penalties a year early, the Port St. Joe Star reports.

CLASS SIZE: Broward district officials avoid a class size penalty for the first time by taking advantage of the state's "schools of choice" loophole, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

COLLEGE MATTERS: St. Johns River State College president Joe Pickens talks about the importance of education to his region in a Q&A with the St. Augustine Record.

INCREASED RIGOR: The University of Florida plans to make its honors program even harder, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all you dedicated Gradebook readers who keep coming back for news, even during the holidays. We're taking the day off to enjoy time with family, and hope that you can do the same. 

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Florida Prepaid fee waiver to end soon

Planning to buy a Florida Prepaid Tuition plan this season? If you move on it before Dec. 31, you can still save as much as $50.

The Prepaid College Board reminds us that its fee waiver for all new applications ends when the ball drops next week. It's part of the group's efforts this year to reduce costs and offer more options to families seeking to afford higher education.

Enrollment will continue through Feb. 28. For more details, visit the Florida Prepaid website.

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Florida education news: Charter schools, testing, attendance zones and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: School boards and municipal governments across Florida have begun rejecting charter school applications they see as lacking quality, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TESTING: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart should study whether the state's dependence on testing harms students, the Bradenton Herald editorializes. • Marion district leaders and teachers support the state's announced testing review, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

LEARNING ENGLISH: The U.S. Department of Education's decision to give Florida English-language learners more time in class before counting them toward accountability measures is only fair, the Miami Herald editorializes.

SCHOOL ZONES: Efforts to offer more seats to neighborhood kids in a Broward Montessori magnet school gets revised amid parent complaints, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Pasco School Board finalizes and sends letter on testing concerns

After weeks of back and forth, the Pasco County School Board finally decided to take a stand on Florida's testing model at its Dec. 16 meeting. Timing then became the issue.

With the winter holidays fast approaching, board members told the staff they wanted their letter asking for a longer transition to new tests and standards in the mail by the week's end.

They just made it.

District officials say the finalized statement went into the "snail mail" to several state leaders on Friday (though it did get e-mailed on Thursday). Pasco became the latest of several school boards to call for changes to the system, while also stating its clear commitment to accountability. "Please give us time to get this right," the board wrote.

See the full letter here.

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Florida education news: Testing, accountability, school grades and more

TESTING: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart launches a review of standardized testing.

NCLB WAIVER: The U.S. Department of Education gives in on Florida's plans for using English-language learners' test scores for accountability. More from the Miami Herald.

TAKEOVER: Florida-based Charter Schools USA is set to take over a struggling Pennsylvania school district, the York Dispatch reports.

COLLEGE PREP: Polk's Bok Academy encourages middle schoolers to set academic priorities, the Ledger reports. 

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Volusia leaders seek ways to better the school district's C grade from the state, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

SCHOOL SITING: Parents in western Orange County soon will know whether a new school can be built in a subdivision there, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

WHAT'S UP? A Barry University political scientist gives his predictions for Florida education in 2015 to State Impact Florida.

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U.S. DOE bends on Florida's demands over testing of English-language learners

Florida's dispute with the federal Department of Education over the testing of English-language learners appears to be over. And Florida looks to have won this round.

Education Week reports that the feds have decided to give Florida the flexibility it seeks in assessing students who are new to the country and still learning the language, although some conditions apply. Assistant education secretary Deborah Delisle informed the state in a letter on Monday.

The USDOE change of direction paves the way for Florida to seek renewal of its waiver of No Child Left Behind rules, which had been in jeopardy to this point. Florida lawmakers had threatened to fight the federal government if it did not yield.

See the letter here. More background here.

UPDATE: Here's the Florida Department of Education's press release on the decision. …

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Florida Department of Education to review testing, seeks volunteer help

While seeking reelection, Florida Gov. Rick Scott promised a "thorough investigation of all standardized tests." Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on Monday announced the beginning of that effort (although many school districts already have gone down the road themselves).

Stewart said in a news release that she would look into how much testing goes on in Florida's public schools. Her department will work with school districts to determine which federal, state and local requirements have led to the proliferation of assessments that so many groups have come to oppose.

The findings will go to lawmakers and district officials, as well as parents and students, to increase the transparency about how standardized testing works in the schools. Nothing is mentioned about cutting back, which Stewart has previously said is not within the DOE's purview to unilaterally implement. …

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Florida DOE sets calculator rules for new tests

It may not have its new tests in hand yet. But the Florida Department of Education does have new rules for calculator use on the math Florida Standards Assessments.

Disappointing some teachers, the policies — released a week ago — don't indicate exactly what types of questions on which students may use a calculator. Instead, they state the sessions when calculators will be permitted. So early preparation in calculator use is tough, perhaps impossible, with the FSA just a few months off.

The rules are pretty clear, however, about what functions a calculator may and may not have. The list of forbidden items, not surprisingly, is the longer one.

One of the most vexing guidelines to some schools is the ban on anything that displays more than one line of text. Many of the more popular handheld calculators — the ones that Pasco schools have purchased hundreds of, for instance — show two lines, for the problem and the answer. That means the school-owned calculators would be off limits during the FSA.

Students will have access to an approved online calculator provided by the state, though. (An example should be here, although it hasn't always been working.)

See the rules here for more details.

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Florida education news: Teacher training, accountability, early education and more

SHUT DOWN: Florida Medical Training Institute in Tampa closes down, putting some students' degrees in question

ACCOUNTABILITY: It's nice for Florida schools to get good grades, but using one test to set the marks remains unconvincing, the Ocala Star-Banner editorializes.

TEACHER TRAINING: The Volusia school district joins with two local universities to improve preparation of teachers-to-be, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

EARLY EDUCATION: The Duval early learning coalition celebrates 10 years of voluntary ratings for area preschools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CAREERS: A Walton high school is setting up a new pre-engineering and machining academy, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

FEDERAL FUNDS: The Escambia school district uses federal grant money to improve its teachers, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

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Florida education news: Personalized learning, concussions, teacher turnover and more

LEARNING STYLES: The Pinellas school district aims to transform its instruction to a personalized learning model.

CATCHING UP: The Monroe School Board renews its high school credit recovery program, the Keynoter reports.

ADVICE: Students in Walton County's first collegiate high school offer insights to incoming classmates, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

STUDENT HEALTH: Volusia schools have failed to monitor concussions among student athletes, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

TURNOVER: The Lee school district sets up a mentor program for new teachers, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

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Florida education news: Transportation, rock and roll, UF milestone and more

TOO SLOW: Critics says Hillsborough's school transportation transformation is taking too much time.

LABOR NEWS: The Nassau School Board approves bonuses for staff, the Fernandina Beach News Leader reports.

LEADERSHIP: The Cape Coral charter school system gets a new superintendent, the North Fort Myers Neighbor reports.

DEBTS: Several closed charter schools owe the Palm Beach school district unaccounted-for state funds, CBS 12 reports.

SCHOOL OF ROCK: Students at Polk's Rock and Roll Academy learn through experiment and research, the Ledger reports.

MILESTONE: The University of Florida prepares to award its 500,000th degree, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

FREED: Former Broward School Board member Stephanie Kraft is assigned community service as part of her sentence for her official corruption conviction, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Land O'Lakes, Fivay principals offer thoughts on improved school grades

If Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart said it once, she said it a half dozen times for emphasis: Despite higher scores, 55 Florida high schools improved their state-issued grades in 2013-14.

Two of those high schools, Fivay and Land O'Lakes, are in Pasco County. Fivay, which at one point hovered close to a state turnaround, improved from C to B. Land O'Lakes, usually the county's top performing school, bumped its B back to an A.

The schools' principals anticipated their grades. After all, the state does release much of the data that supports the marks much earlier than the December report.

Fivay principal Angie Stone said some people in her school even held out hope for an A. 

She said the school, which opened with several D grades, "focused on three areas and worked as hard as we could" for improvement. Those were student engagement, so the teens would be more interested in their lessons; rigor, so they would be challenged with hard enough material; and readiness, so they would not be behind as their exams approached.

"I am really proud of how hard our students and teachers worked," Stone said. …

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