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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

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 puchased 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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Florida education news: School grades, attendance zones, tax votes and more

SCHOOL GRADES: Fewer Florida high schools earn A grades, but the state's graduation rate inches higher.

ATTENDANCE ZONES: Some southeast Hillsborough families are upset about proposed school boundary changes to deal with growth.

TAX REFERENDA: Hernando school district leaders can look to five other Florida counties that had successful tax increase votes.

LIABILITY: A Miami-Dade teen sues the school district and a former teacher who had sex with her, NBC Miami reports.

CLEARED: An in-house investigation clears Manatee's professional standards investigator of accusations that he lied on his application, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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A week of town hall meetings in Hillsborough

Corie Holmes, Juanita Juarez and John Saffold, three transportation whistleblowers, gave their assessments of improvements in the department. Holmes and Juarez said there has been little progress.

Corie Holmes, Juanita Juarez and John Saffold, three transportation whistleblowers, gave their assessments of improvements in the department. Holmes and Juarez said there has been little progress.

So how hot was the rhetoric at Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin's town hall meeting?

Tepid, if you compare it to meetings in the spring.

Although she lamented that she was not allowed to advertise Thursday's Chamberlain High School gathering on ParentLink, Griffin was measured in her remarks about Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. So was board chairwoman Susan Valdes, even after some of the guests asked about Elia's future with the district.

The group discussed a wide array of topics including transportation, the teacher evaluation system and racial disparities in student discipline. Three of the four transportation department whistleblowers who wrote a harsh memo last January were at the meeting; the fourth has since retired. Board member Cindy Stuart spoke at length about challenges the district will face in 2015, adding that she was frustrated that principals are afraid of what will happen to them if they complain about problems at their schools.

The meeting followed two gatherings Elia held this week to update transportation employees about improvements in that department. As it was a busy week of holiday events, none of the meetings drew large crowds.

 

 

 

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100 Pasco teachers win grants for creative instruction ideas

Every year, teachers end up spending money from their own pockets to support their classroom projects. The Pasco Education Foundation seeks to cushion the impact by offering grants to educators who make compelling arguments for how their needs would benefit student learning.

This year, the foundation has chosen 100 recipients for the awards. From the looks of the list, some schools are much more active in seeking the support than others.

The school with the most grants is Seven Springs Middle, with nine, followed by Deer Park, New River and West Zephyrhills elementary schools, with six each. 

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Pinellas grad rate increases even as school grades fall

When high school grades were released today, Pinellas wasn't able to maintain its all A's and B's status that it achieved for the first time last year.

Yet Pinellas boasted the largest hike in its graduation rate in the Tampa Bay region: 76.2 percent of students graduated, up 4.3 percentage points over 2013.

Regardless, no Pinellas high schools improved their grade this year as the state made it a more difficult feat.

Because 83 percent of high schools earned an A or a B in 2013, the grading scale was adjusted upward in accordance with board rules.

Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Largo and Northeast high schools all fell to C grades. No Pinellas high schools earned a D or F (only 5 percent of high schools across the state did).

Several Pinellas high schools lost their A status, as Boca Ciega, Clearwater, Dunedin, Lakewood and St. Pete all dropped to B grades.

The remaining A schools were Osceola, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, and East Lake.

Osceola is a fundamental high school; no neighborhood schools south of Ulmerton Road earned an A grade.

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