1. Gradebook

Florida House takes steps to eliminate controversial teacher test

The General Knowledge exam “has probably outlived its usefulness," sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds says.

Since its requirement about four years ago, the Florida Department of Education’s General Knowledge Exam for teachers has been a job killer.

Educators have complained that it tested them on topics they never used, and if they didn’t pass, they couldn’t keep working. Department leaders insisted, though, that the assessment ensured that teachers had the basics needed to instruct students.

Nearly 1,000 Florida teachers lost their positions over the summer after failing. They often were second-career teachers on temporary certificates while working to complete their state license.

Now the Florida House is moving to get rid of the test, with leaders suggesting it stands in the way of keeping otherwise strong teachers in their classrooms where students need them. Subject area tests would not be affected.

“We feel the General Knowledge test has probably outlived its usefulness,” state Rep. Byron Donalds, the Naples Republican who leads the House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee, said Wednesday as he presented a bill to create alternatives to the exam. “We have an opportunity to make some corrections.”

Donalds’ proposed committee bill, which won strong bipartisan support, would extend the length of time teachers have to pass the GK test, while reducing the cost of any retakes. For teachers who do not pass, it would offer districts the opportunity to waive the score for teachers who complete a two-year mentorship program and get their principal’s recommendation to remain.

The bill also would require teacher preparation programs to provide more specific training on how to manage classrooms filled with a wide range of students, including those from low-income areas, both urban and rural. It further would have those preparation programs include courses on how to incorporate state standards into teaching, and not just to know about the standards.

“This is an important piece of legislation, especially giving school districts an alternate pathway to giving certification to teachers who are doing a great job in the classroom," said Rep. Jennifer Webb, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, suggested the proposed changes could help reduce Florida’s growing shortage of teachers who apply for job vacancies. It follows what teachers have asked for, Bell noted.

“I think this is going to resolve a lot of issues in the state of Florida and make our education system better than what it is now,” she said.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, called Donalds’ bill a “great solution” to the state’s “crisis and ... exodus.”

“I also do think we need to be able to pay our teachers better," Eskamani added.

The state Senate has placed a similar, but not as far reaching, proposal in its priority education legislation SB 7070. For anything to take effect, the two chambers would have to agree upon identical language.

Related coverage: Tutoring the teachers: School districts work to coach those who struggle on state tests