Thursday, May 24, 2018
Education

Hillsborough School Board takes a stand on testing

TAMPA — It took discussions all morning at a workshop session, then a bit of a power struggle toward the evening.

But the Hillsborough County School Board ultimately took a position Tuesday on the abundance of student testing.

By a 6-1 vote, with member Stacy White dissenting, the board agreed to ask the Florida Legislature and Department of Education to hold off making any more changes to the testing system for three years and to provide funding to cover the cost of existing testing requirements.

At the request of member Susan Valdes, Chairwoman Candy Olson's resolution also asked for accommodations to protect students who are learning-disabled or new English speakers.

At an afternoon board meeting, White introduced his own resolution, which included detailed information about test scores in Hillsborough. And Valdes tried to fine-tune the wording on the issue of English language learners before agreeing to support Olson's document.

Olson asked White if he would go along with her version to make the move unanimous.

"Madam chair, I'm going to let my 'no' vote stand," he said.

Testing — the subject of school board resolutions around the nation and state — has troubled Olson for months.

At the board workshop on the issue, members spent more than an hour learning about state-ordered tests, national tests and the end-of-course exams that have existed in Hillsborough since 1984.

Asked if some tests could be eliminated, assessment director Samuel Whitten told members, "When you take something out, you provide less information for the teacher."

But as in other districts, problems this year with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test fueled members' determination to take action.

"The state can't get it right," member Carol Kurdell said at the workshop.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that 23 Florida districts have signed either a national antitesting resolution, one from the Florida School Boards Association or their own.

Not including Hillsborough, these counties represent more than half the state's 2.6 million public school students.

At the workshop, superintendent MaryEllen Elia reminded the board that in two years, Hillsborough will come under Common Core, a state-led effort to develop national academic standards. The transition will require a multitude of changes in how the district teaches and tests.

"We need to look forward," Elia said. "There have been issues. I think we can all face those issues. But we've got to move forward and 2014-2015 is looming in front of us with a test that is going to be very different."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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