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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

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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How will Florida elementary schools deal with third grade retention decisions?

Never mind the validity reviews and cut scores. Florida elementary schools will know which third graders are at risk of retention, based on their state language arts test performance, by early June, education commissioner Pam Stewart told superintendents on Wednesday.

School leaders had expressed concern after Stewart announced two weeks ago that results would not be available until winter.

But Stewart has now clarified that the Department of Education will inform school districts which children landed in the bottom 20 percent on the Florida Standards Assessment in June, so they can make appropriate arrangements for the children, whether summer remedial work, retention or promotion. New state law leaves it up to schools to decide whether to have the children repeat the grade.

Third graders took the FSA exam on paper, so troubles with the state's computerized testing should not factor into the outcomes, deputy commissioner Juan Copa said. The department already will have conducted two independent validity reviews of the test, although not the third called for by lawmakers, so the results should be fairly secure, DOE spokeswoman Meghan Collins added. …

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Not enough time to use test data, Hillsborough teachers say

They test kids and test kids. But a growing number of Hillsborough teachers say the results aren't ready in time to help them do a better job.

The problem is especially severe for state test results, according to this year's anonymous teacher survey. Only 57 percent of teachers agreed that "state assessment data are available in time to impact instructional practices." That's a seven point drop over last year's results. When the same question was asked about local assessment data, 80 percent agreed, a six point drop over the 2014 response.

Teachers also are less satisfied with student conduct, teacher leadership and school leadership. Instructional practices, professional development and community support have improved. Slightly under 80 percent agreed that "overall, my school is a good place to work and learn."

One area where teachers are happy: Internet speed and reliability. That response showed a four point gain, from 64 to 68 percent. …

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Florida voucher program gets big boost from Miami firm

Florida's tax credit scholarship program, which provides private school vouchers to low-income students, received a major infusion Wednesday, as a Miami-based wine and spirits distributor made the largest single contribution to the program ever.

Southern Wine & Spirits of America announced it would put $100 million into the scholarships, adding to the $90 million it had donated since 2010. Florida corporations can redirect their corporate income tax, insurance premium tax, alcohol beverage excise tax, direct pay sales and use tax, and oil and gas severance tax liabilities to a state approved scholarship funding organization and get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit from the state.

"We know the value of a quality education and that the students of today will one day grow up to run our businesses, our communities and our country," Southern president and CEO Wayne E. Chaplin said in a release. "We are thrilled that our tax credit redirection will provide thousands of children with scholarships for school next year." …

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Final tally: One education bill passes Florida Legislature

Going into the 2015 Florida legislative session, Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg said only one school-related bill mattered: Changes to the state's testing system.

In the end, that's all lawmakers could manage to accomplish before the House abruptly ended session three days early over budget disagreements.

HB 7069 is one of just nine bills that made it through both chambers and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott into law. School districts across the state are now taking advantage of the measure, cutting local tests and changing their first day of classes even before the Department of Education can deliver its official technical guidance.

As for the rest of the dozens of education bills, Legg said almost without exception they're dead until the next regular session. That includes a proposed rewrite of high school athletics oversight rules, expanded school choice options, revised charter school governance, provisions to allow some teachers to carry concealed weapons and incentives for districts to adopt student uniforms. Manyof these ideas had been written into a single bill (SB 948) as an effort to carry them forward in the waning days of the session. …

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