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  1. Education

Florida officials propose pushing state testing to final three weeks of the school year

In just a couple of weeks, Florida K-12 schools will begin the grueling three-month stretch of administering mandatory statewide student assessments.

But next year, those tests might not happen until the end of the school year, if lawmakers pass a proposal this spring to reform Florida's lengthy testing schedule.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores said lawmakers have "heard loud and clear from parents, from teachers, from students" about "overtesting and the overemphasis of testing," so that's why she and Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah and Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor want to shift all assessment tests to the final three weeks of the school year, starting in 2017-18.

They hope their plan — the "Fewer, Better Tests" bill — will reduce the stress and anxiety that teachers, parents and students grapple with during spring testing time.

"Seeing firsthand the angst and all the scrambling, the biggest impact that can be had is pushing back the calendar," Diaz told the Times/Herald.

The legislation (SB 926 and HB 773) formally unveiled Wednesday does not eliminate any standardized test, but lawmakers and stakeholders said it could reduce the number of local tests that school districts impose because they don't get state test results back fast enough to quickly assess student progress.

"It's about really putting some common sense into our whole testing situation overall," said Diaz, the House's K-12 education budget chairman this year, who is a former high school teacher and administrator in Miami-Dade Public Schools and now chief operating officer at Doral College.

Besides shifting all testing to the end of the school year, the legislation would require results from the Florida Standards Assessments to be returned to teachers within one week so teachers can actually have time to act on them. It would require a more understandable report be sent to parents of what each student's results mean, so they, too, can take steps to help their child.

Flores said that "somehow the state of Florida went off the path when we had this really great idea on the issue of accountability," but she also told reporters the reforms proposed this year are "absolutely not" an admission by Republicans that assessment testing has gone too far.

The testing reform proposal draws on a big conversation point from the 2016 session: Whether the SAT and ACT can be used as an alternative to the FSA that high school students take, which might prevent potential duplication and extra testing.

Under the bill, Florida education Commissioner Pam Stewart would be required to study this year if it is even feasible — specifically whether the SAT and ACT "align" with the high school-level English and math standards Florida requires under its version of Common Core, which the FSA assesses for each student.