Florida education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced Monday that her department would conduct an examination of standardized testing in public schools, following months of criticism from school boards, teachers and parents across the state.
In a statement, the Department of Education said Stewart will "work closely with districts to gather complete and accurate information on the tests being administered to meet federal, state and local requirements."
The department will analyze the data and produce "information about the number of standardized tests and how each of the test results are used by the state, school boards and teachers," the statement said.
Stewart's office said districts have a Jan. 23 deadline to return information to the state, and the review would be completed "as soon as possible" after that.
Pressure has been building steadily this year for the state to address testing as Florida pivots to new education standards and a new standardized test to replace the FCAT. Many have said the transition is moving too fast and expressed fear that Florida's heavy reliance on test results for education accountability will hurt students and schools.
In August, the Lee County School Board created a stir by voting to opt out of testing altogether, only to reverse that decision and craft a resolution instead. Several other school systems voiced concern, as well, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Polk and Duval counties.
Pinellas County, initially reluctant to join in, voted earlier this month to adopt a resolution urging the state to slow down as it changes to a new accountability system. Pasco School Board members entered the fray last week, deciding to make their displeasure known in a letter to state officials.
The reaction has turned Florida into ground zero for anti-testing sentiment this year. A group supporting families who want to opt out of standardized testing in schools is holding its second annual conference next month in Fort Lauderdale.
The three-day session for United Opt Out National will include seminars on such issues as organizing and using social media to raise awareness.
Stewart's announcement comes four months after Gov. Rick Scott pledged a "thorough investigation of all standardized tests" as he was campaigning for re-election.
Separately on Monday, Stewart announced she is setting up a new group, the Keep Florida Learning Committee.
The 11-member panel will "review further deregulation opportunities for the school system" and look at how school boards select instructional materials, such as textbooks, the Department of Education said. The group also will look for ways to get parents more involved in schools and review the state's implementation of new standards and its new test, the Florida Standards Assessment.
The department put out a call for volunteers to serve on the committee. The deadline for applying is Jan. 31, and the group will start meeting in March.