LAND O'LAKES — Responding to the workload complaints of more than 1,300 elementary school teachers, Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning will end district-required use of several classroom tests, beginning in the fall.
Instead, teachers will have the option of using the weekly, unit and benchmark assessments in math, reading and science that they previously were required to use. State mandated tests, such as FCAT and FAIR, will remain, and the district will provide more training in how to best use the results.
"We are saying assessment is important to knowing where your kids are," Browning said Wednesday, stressing that teachers still must use exams to guide their instruction. "But we are not saying one size fits all."
The elementary teachers filed a class-action grievance in October saying their teaching had been impaired by an over-use of tests, many of which did not help improve their lessons. They also stated that they were further burdened by too many meetings and too much paperwork.
Former superintendent Heather Fiorentino rejected their request for relief, leaving the union to consider appealing the matter to the School Board. Browning, who took office in November, said he wanted the issue settled quickly, without having to involve the School Board.
He assigned assistant superintendent Amelia Larson to review all the details about testing and meetings. Only after they were satisfied that they had a workable solution did they make a proposal.
Two points stood out for Browning.
First, he said, teacher planning time must be "sacred." Principals won't be told exactly how to run their schools, Browning said, but they will be instructed to be more judicious in setting meetings that demand teachers' time.
The district will provide training in this regard, including on how to create school schedules to protect teachers' individual and joint planning time, and how to run productive meetings.
Second, Browning continued, the teachers will not be forced to use tests that don't suit their needs. That does not, however, mean they won't be required to test their students.
"The idea is, instead of prescribing which test to give, teams must decide what they need to teach," Larson explained. "Then they should decide which common assessments are indicative of what they need children to learn."
Teaching teams will be able to select from the tests that the district makes available, many of which were previously mandated.
The district will then monitor the use of meetings and testing to make sure that the flexibility isn't abused.
Browning stressed that his goal is to allow teachers to act as professionals, so long as the district does not lose sight of its responsibility to improve student achievement.
"This is important to me," he said. "We need to get this issue settled."
United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb praised Browning for taking quick action on a set of problems that he inherited.
She welcomed the planned testing changes, saying she only wished they would take effect sooner.
As for Browning's desire to protect teacher planning time, she said, "that is something that our teachers will herald."
"It is certainly good news," Webb said. "It is also consistent with how our contract is written."
Webb noted that, even with the positive steps forward, more work remains to resolve all the teachers' concerns.
"We're certainly making headway," she said. "But this is not the grievance resolution."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.