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PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking Bernie Sanders’ attack on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

The Democratic presidential candidate said Florida places too much emphasis on school tests.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks Tuesday during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY | AP]

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders expressed his solidarity with Florida teachers who descended upon the state Capitol last week to rally for higher school funding.

Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont, said Florida places too much emphasis on school tests and that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to start them even earlier.

In Florida, he wrote in the Sun Sentinel, "children are required to take their first standardized test within 30 days of beginning kindergarten and Gov. DeSantis wants to extend that requirement to preschoolers."

Sanders called such a policy "absurd" and ineffective. Whether that’s true is outside of the scope of this fact-check. Here, we wanted to know if Sanders correctly assessed the timing of Florida’s earliest standardized test and whether DeSantis wants to expand it to preschoolers.

After we contacted the Sanders campaign, his team tweaked the language in the online op-ed. The revised piece says, "DeSantis wants to extend harsh accountability requirements to preschoolers." (The update is not disclosed on the Sun Sentinel website.)

While we applaud the Sanders campaign for making its language more accurate, we still wanted to fact-check what was missing from the original statement.

It’s true that Florida kindergarteners take a screening test at the beginning of the year. However, we could not find any evidence that the state is adding similar tests for preschoolers. The most we’ve heard so far is an unspecific call for more accountability, presumably among pre-K providers.

RELATED: Florida Gov. DeSantis proposes starting teacher pay increase

Kindergarteners take assessment at the start of the year

Florida isn’t unusual for giving tests to students in kindergarten. More than half the states have a kindergarten assessment, said W. Steven Barnett, who co-directs the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Public school students take the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener within 30 days of entering kindergarten. The assessment test asks students to recognize numbers up to 20, distinguish numbers from letters, and match words that are the same, among other skills.

The information is meant to help teachers and parents, as well as the state. The state uses the results to calculate the kindergarten readiness rates for Florida’s voluntary prekindergarten program, which provides free access to all of the state’s 4-year-olds.

In May, results showed that 41 percent of children who participated in VPK were not ready for kindergarten. In response, DeSantis directed education commissioner Richard Corcoran to create an improvement plan.

In the same press release, Corcoran called for "a real accountability measure for all our school readiness programs" and said it was a rallying cry to improve early learning.

Does that mean adding tests for voluntary pre-k? So far we have not seen any more details from the DeSantis administration.

For the record, Florida law already requires VPK students to take a test at the outset of the program and at the end. The assessments are designed to track progress for the students, classroom and preschool center.

A new bill filed by state lawmakers would require VPK students to undergo a specified screening and progress-monitoring program. Since the session just started, we don’t yet know how far the proposal will go or whether DeSantis supports it. His office did not respond to our questions. An aide to a bill sponsor, Sen. Gayle Harrell, said that Harrell doesn’t know if DeSantis supports her bill.

Our ruling

Sanders said, "But in Florida children are required to take their first standardized test within 30 days of beginning kindergarten and Gov. DeSantis wants to extend that requirement to preschoolers."

Kindergarten students do take a standardized screening test during the first 30 days. We didn’t find any evidence that DeSantis wants to extend such a test to preschoolers (and we’ll note they are already tested).

The DeSantis administration called for an “accountability measure for all our school readiness programs” after a report showed 41 percent of VPK students were not prepared for kindergarten. But he has not been specific, and we haven’t found evidence that it will include new testing for VPK students in the first 30 days.

We rate this statement Half True.

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