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Revisions in FCAT are among changes in education

TALLAHASSEE — Baggy pants won't be outlawed, but the bullies will have to be stopped. Students and teachers will have more time to prepare for the FCAT.

Middle school students will have to take P.E. class. And high schools won't be graded solely on test results.

University and community college students will pay more. But they'll see larger classes and service cutbacks.

These are among the changes for public classrooms in Florida, under legislation that passed during the session that ended Friday. Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to sign the plans into law.

The former Okaloosa schools superintendent, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was behind one of the most significant changes for K-12. Lawmakers approved his plan (SB 1908) to reduce the emphasis of the FCAT exam in determining high schools' state grades. Only freshmen and sophomores take the reading, math and writing tests.

Gaetz's bill makes the FCAT only 50 percent of a high school's grade. Other factors like graduation rates, student participation and passage of Advanced Placement and IB exams will now determine the grade as well.

Gaetz's plan also requires the FCAT testing schedule be changed by the 2010-11 school year, so that the writing exam doesn't happen until the end of February and the other subjects not before mid April.

"Pushing the FCAT back is probably one of the better ideas that came from this session," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association. "And the idea that school grades won't be solely hinging on FCAT is a step in the right direction."

The same bill calls for a revision of public school curriculum standards, something House leaders tacked on as a priority of Speaker Marco Rubio. The curriculum, to be developed and adopted over the next three years, will include more rigorous standards for language, math and science. It also emphasizes technology, "media literacy," foreign languages and civics.

"The three R's are no longer enough," said a House education leader, Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka.

Lawmakers approved a bill to ban bullying (HB 669), and another to establish more stringent ethics standards for K-12 teachers (SB 1712).

For universities and community colleges, they are recommending a 6 percent tuition hike for Florida undergraduates that Crist says he will approve for fall 2008 (HB 5001).

Meanwhile, a "differential tuition" approved last year for the University of South Florida will allow officials to charge up to 30 percent more to new undergraduates on the main campus.

UF, Florida State University and likely the University of Central Florida and Florida International University also will be able to charge a differential.

The revenue will help universities that lost tens of millions of dollars because of the state budget deficit, but college classrooms will be more crowded and the course offerings more scarce.

"Our state university students will have less and pay more," said Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, who is an academic adviser at the University of South Florida.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Revisions in FCAT are among changes in education 05/03/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 3, 2008 10:51pm]

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