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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Sen. John Legg objects to resolution honoring outgoing FEA president Andy Ford

Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, released a letter Monday in which he asked the Senate secretary to officially record his opposition to a resolution honoring outgoing Florida Education Association president Andy Ford and his contributions to public education.

Legg took particular umbrage to the statement that Ford "focused his efforts on high-quality public schools for every student, dignity and justice for all workers, equal opportunities regardless of race or gender, and furthering of education as a means for individuals to achieve the great American dream."

"The bottom line is they're suing a program that is helping kids," Legg said, referring to the FEA's participation in a lawsuit challenging Florida's tax credit scholarship program. "I have nothing against Andy personally."

Legg also rejected an award from the Florida School Boards Association in 2014, citing the FSBA's part in the voucher lawsuit.

He said he would have voted against the Ford resolution, presented by Tampa Democrat Sen. Arthenia Joyner on the last day of session. However, he noted, such resolutions are automatically adopted by publication.

"There is no way to formally object," Legg said. "There's no way to vote no." …

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Using Florida as a key example, John Oliver sums up the fight against testing

This clip on standardized testing from John Oliver's Last Week Tonight would be funny if it weren't what so many parents and educators fight daily. Not surprisingly, Florida appears prominently in the discussion.

Just watch.

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Pasco school district proposes expanded sharing of employee sick leave

Pasco County schools have experienced their share of watching employees struggle through extended illness without enough sick leave to see them through.

The Florida Legislature made it easier to transfer accumulated sick days from one staffer to another in 2012. This year the Pasco district administration is proposing another step to allow its workers to support ailing colleagues.

During negotiations, the district proposed to permit to donate up to 100 days of unused sick time to others who need the assistance, having exhausted their own accumulated leave. It asked the United School Employees of Pasco to accept the idea as a joint contract "opener," so each side would still have three issues to bring to the table.

In the past, the issue of sick time sharing has had support from teachers and other workers. The sides have not reached any formal agreement on this latest idea. They began bargaining for 2015-16 last week.

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Florida education news: Budgets, career academies, credits and more

BUDGETING: Without a state budget, Florida school district leaders find it difficult to prepare their spending plans for the coming fiscal year.

WORK READY: Florida high schools expand career academy options, Pensacola Today reports.

CREDIT RECOVERY: Duval district officials have questions about programs aimed at helping over-age students move toward graduation, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TESTING: Volusia schools join the growing list of districts cutting local end-of-course tests, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Florida Department of Education says the Lee school district would be out of compliance with state law if it does not count state EOC's for 30 percent of a student's course grade, the Palm Beach Post reports.

GET A JOB: The Manatee school district upgrades its online employment application system, the Bradenton Herald reports.

ATTENDANCE BOUNDARIES: The Bay School Board is expected to approve a controversial school rezoning plan, the Panama City News Herald reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Leon County should move to an appointed superintendent, the Tallahassee Democrat editorializes.

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Florida education news: Shakeup, tossed out, safe passage and more

TOP JOBS: A shakeup of Hernando district administrators takes many by surprise.

TESTING: The Monroe School Board considers ending all local end-of-course exams, the Keynoter reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: About 140 children are thrown out of the Villages Charter School, the Daily Commercial reports.

GETTING THERE: Florida lawmakers pass a bill to increase safety of students walking to school, the Stuart News reports.

NOT MUCH DONE: The Florida Legislature passes one of its lowest levels of bills in years, the Naples Daily News reports.

COME TOGETHER: The Manatee School Board looks to work more collaboratively as the district superintendent leaves, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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Florida education news: Illegal adjournment, reading lessons, school nurses and more

UNCONSTITUTIONAL: The Florida Supreme Court finds the state House violated the Constitution in adjourning early, but also that it was too late to force them back.

TESTING: The Brevard school district reduces its local end-of-course exams, Florida Today reports. • Santa Rosa and Escambia schools also cut their local testing, the Pensacola News Journal reports. • Opt-Out Orlando urges parents to have their children not take Orange County's K-2 tests, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

READING LESSONS: Students at Manatee Lakewood Ranch High learn about childhood literacy, then visit a nearby elementary school to see it in action, the Bradenton Herald reports.

LABOR NEWS: Palm Beach teacher union leaders say district officials are not telling the truth about proposed raises, the Palm Beach Post reports.

HEALTH CARE: Broward schools lack enough nurses to care for students, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SAFETY: A St. Johns high school student is arrested for bringing a loaded weapon to campus, the St. Augustine Record reports.

SCHOOL CLOSINGS: The Alachua school district prepares to shut down an alternative center for dropout prevention, the Gainesville Sun reports. …

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Florida education department clarifies rules on student retention, teacher evaluations

The passage of HB 7069 into law changed the rules for evaluating Florida students and teachers. Exactly how has been the subject of much debate.

There's been a healthy back and forth, for instance, over whether the Legislature's action gave school districts more flexibility on retaining third graders who score at the lowest levels of the state reading test.

Here's what we recently wrote, suggesting that schools hold the final decision. The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, for one, took issue, saying we got it wrong.

The Florida Department of Education issued its notes from an April 29 conference call, in which it aimed to explain the current state of affairs to superintendents. Here's what it said: …

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Pasco teacher subject of testing opt-out investigation

The Pasco school district has launched an investigation into a Mitchell High School math teacher who reportedly encouraged students to opt out of their Algebra II end-of-course exam.

The state-mandated exam counts as 30 percent of a student's course grade.

After learning of the teacher's advice to students, the district Employee Relations department began looking into the details. Supervisors interviewed several students, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, and planned to talk to more teens to determine the full extent of the situation.

They have not yet met with the teacher, whose name is not being released.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has spoken out against over-testing, cutting district-mandated EOC's in addition to calling for a pause to the consequences associated with state test results. He has made clear, however, that the district does not support the opt-out movement. As such, a teacher should not be promoting it in classes or to students, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

"It's something that is disruptive and not how we want teachers to represent," Cobbe said. "Their responsibility is to teach and to get kids to follow the law." …

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Florida education news: Legislative stalemate, testing, condoms and more

WHAT'S NEXT? Florida lawmakers and the governor can't agree how to proceed in the Legislature's stalemate.

TESTING: The Pasco school district drops all its local end-of-course exams. • Polk schools will keep most of their tests in place, the Ledger reports.

LAWSUITS: The Manatee school district moves to dismiss two court cases filed against it, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: A bill to create statewide open enrollment dies in the Florida Legislature, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

SCHOLARSHIPS: Earning a Florida Bright Futures scholarship becomes more difficult, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

FREE CONDOMS: Alachua parents now can opt out of allowing their children to receive free condoms from school clinics, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Add Highlands County to the school districts cutting their local tests

For those of you keeping track, the Highlands County school district suspended its local end-of-course exams on Thursday along with Pasco County. They joined a growing list that includes Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Leon, Broward, Charlotte, Manatee, Lee and Walton counties.

Others have chosen not to eliminate tests, including Collier and Okaloosa counties.

Here's what Highlands superintendent Wally Cox, a regular before legislative committees, said in his release:

The School Board of Highlands County believes that assessment is an important part of the learning process and that students' progress should be measured, and results reported in simple, transparent formats. It is also our belief that we must restore the learning environment by reducing testing requirements. Effective immediately, the School Board of Highlands County will make the following changes: …

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Lee schools won't count state EOC results in student grades: Can they do that?

While many Florida school districts cancel their local end-of-course exams, courtesy of changed state law, the Lee County School Board has decided to take on state EOC tests, too.

The Lee board voted unanimously Tuesday to cut the connection between the state tests and student grades. Parents received word from the district late Wednesday.

"Students enrolled in Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, US History, Biology and Middle School Civics will continue to participate in the End of Course Exams for assessment purposes," the statement reads. "However, the result of these assessments will have no impact on the final grade parents see on the student’s report card."

The move has some parents wondering if their districts might do the same thing. It raises the question, can they do that? According to the state Department of Education, the answer is "No."

A department spokeswoman noted that current law states the tests will count as 30 percent of a student's final course grade, and the latest amendment to that law doesn't change the requirement. The new rules reiterate: …

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Pasco schools join districts across Florida in canceling all local end-of-course exams

After days of discussion, the Pasco school district has decided to end all local end-of-course exams at all grade levels. It follows the steps of Pinellas, Miami-Dade and other districts.

Read the developing story here.

Read superintendent Kurt Browning's statement below:

After much consideration, I have decided that for the 2014-2015 school year, district EOCs (including 2nd and 5th grade art, music, and PE) will not be required.  However, in accordance with expectations, each teacher must administer a standards-based assessment in each class in all grade levels.  To provide greater flexibility to our schools, teachers have the option of selecting a teacher-developed and principal-approved instrument, or they may administer the district-developed EOC. The principal must certify that any teacher-developed exam measures the Florida Standards for that course. …

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Which state tests carry the highest stakes? Florida's at the top of the list

Hearing complaints that state tests carry too many consequences, the Hechinger Report reviewed the stakes attached to Common Core-associated exams in 44 states and the District of Columbia. Its question was, essentially, how will each state use its test scores?

"We found that very few states will be using this spring’s scores for any student-related decisions. And the stakes for teachers are only slightly higher," the authors concluded.

When you look at the interactive maps, though, one thing stands out: Florida. It's among the small number of states that use the tests as a high school graduation requirement, a promotion/retention arbiter in certain grades and a portion of teacher evaluations.

Of course, many Florida students experience no mandatory adverse effects from their test results. But compared to other states, Florida's stakes are high.

See the Hechinger Report article and maps for more information.

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Florida education news: Legislative limbo, bullying, teacher tenure and more

STILL IN SESSION: The Florida Senate continues its work and tries to get the House to come back, as bills fall like flies.

BULLYING: Children at Pasco Calusa Elementary fight bullying in their school.

TESTING: Bay superintendent Bill Husfelt continues to hope for more changes to state testing rules, the Panama City News Herald reports. •  Collier schools will not reduce any local tests, the Naples Daily News reports. • It's time for a thorough review of the Florida Standards Assessments, the Ledger editorializes.

TITLE I: The Manatee school district helps school leaders deal with their most at-risk students, the Bradenton Herald reports.

EARLY LEARNING: Preschool leaders express dismay than a bill to improve Florida's early education system has died, the Florida Times-Union reports.

LABOR NEWS: Volusia teachers end months of bitter bargaining with a tentative contract deal, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Broward teachers union loses a court battle to secure tenure for teachers who did not have it by July 2014, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Senate passes special needs bill -- and sends it to the empty Florida House

GaetzA Senate proposal expanding services for children with unique abilities may have virtually no chance of becoming law this year, but the Senate passed the bill anyway and sent it to the empty Florida House of Representatives.

The bill (SB 602) was a top priority for Senate President Andy Gardiner, whose son Andrew has Down Syndrome. It would have expanded the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program, which provides $10,000 scholarships to children with special needs. The money can be used for tutoring services, various types of therapy and college tuition, among other things.

The Senate could have voted on version of the bill amended by the House -- and sent it along to Gov. Rick Scott. But Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, took issue with a provision that would have allowed about $300 to be deducted from each child's award and given to the organization that runs the program as an administrative fee.

Gaetz said the House language did not "meet [Gardiner's] moral standard" -- the Senate version of the bill made it clear that the administrative fee could not come from student scholarships -- and slammed the organization, Step Up for Students. …

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