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Weekend interviews with Pasco School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley and incoming Florida House speaker Will Weatherford

A debate over the importance and scope of Florida's FCAT testing has raged in recent weeks, with opposition to the widespread use of the FCAT mounting in the aftermath of some high-profile problems with the 2012 results. The debate escalated when the Florida School Boards Association adopted a resolution urging a scaling back of the state's reliance on the FCAT, only to be rebuked publicly by education commissioner Gerard Robinson.

Pasco County School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley, a member of the FSBA executive board, sat through Robinson's speech aghast.

"He told the school board members that they shouldn't be trying to set education policy in the state of Florida," she said. "I went, 'Pardon me? Did I hear that correctly?'"

Hurley suggested Robinson's entire speech - she actually called it a "very offensive presentation" - hit all the wrong buttons. He also missed the point, she added.

"The School Boards Association made sure they put in the opening statement ... that we are not opposed to accountability. We are all for accountability," she said. "We are just not in favor of the way the FCAT has been used in the state."

Robinson's dismissive tone set the stage for a possible dispute, Hurley said.

She contrasted it with the appearance of state House Speaker Will Weatherford, who met with the group the following day.

"He set a much more positive and open discussion," she said. "He said, 'We may disagree on some things, but I am here to say I will listen to you.' ... I only wish that Mr. Robinson had done it in the same way."

Weatherford said in a separate interview that he has no intention of leading the Legislature away from its testing program, and made that point clear to the FSBA.

The results, including increased student literacy and improved graduation rates among all demographic groups, are proof that the system of high standards and testing works, he said.

"It's not a debate about whether we have it," Weatherford said. "The question is over how do we best utilize the data."

And that's a conversation that he is willing to have.

"What I want," Weatherford said, "is a productive discussion where we look at what's working and how we can make it better."

Posted by Jeff Solochek at 12:00:14 pm on June 23, 2012