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  1. Education

Florida school boards take a stand against overtesting

The Florida School Boards Association, which represents Florida's 67 school boards, called on the state Tuesday to stop using test results for any purpose but to diagnose how students are doing in school, and to delay the consequences associated with new state tests until 2017.
Published Dec. 3, 2014

TAMPA — Reflecting a growing disdain for high-stakes testing, the group representing Florida's 67 school boards called on the state Tuesday to stop using test results for any purpose but to diagnose how students are doing in school.

In a two-page resolution, the Florida School Boards Association also urged lawmakers to delay the consequences associated with new state tests until 2017. In the meantime, the group stated, local districts should be allowed to determine when students are promoted, when they graduate and how teachers are evaluated — some of the tasks that, under state mandate, are largely dictated by student test scores.

"There is a groundswell of support for these types of issues," Collier County School Board member Roy Terry said during a discussion on the document. "We need to get moving on it while we do have the support."

The FSBA's action caps several months during which school boards and statewide education organizations have adopted similar stands. It came as the group met at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay for its annual conference.

The association did not go as far as some other groups, which have pushed for a law that would allow parents to opt out of state testing for their children. Brevard County School Board member Karen Henderson suggested such a move would give lawmakers a free pass from fixing the underlying problems that Florida faces.

"By overcoming the poor use of tests, you don't have to opt out," Sarasota County School Board member Caroline Zucker said.

Some members on the FSBA board of directors argued that the resolution was too long and would have little effect on the lawmakers they hope to influence.

"It really concerns me that we don't have a plan of attack," Indian River County School Board member Claudia Jimenez said, suggesting the FSBA should join with other groups such as the PTA in pushing the Legislature to act.

But the majority contended that the resolution is aimed more at the public than at lawmakers, who will hear the bullet points from lobbyists.

Citrus County School Board member Thomas Kennedy said the last time he found the FSBA to be effective was in 2012, when it also adopted an antitesting resolution. That action helped lead to the departure of then-Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, who was dismissive of the effort.

"I am thankful that we stood up then. It is time we stand up now," Kennedy said. "What this is telling our communities is that we don't agree with our legislators and the policies they are passing."

Moving forward, members said, the FSBA must work hard to promote its views and also give lawmakers clear direction on where school boards hope the accountability movement must head.

"They need a recommendation from the FSBA on what would be appropriate testing," Palm Beach County School Board member Chuck Shaw said.

He also proposed that the FSBA step up its political efforts in promoting its agenda, perhaps by creating a political action committee. The group's resolution calls for an independent panel to oversee implementation of the state's revised accountability system.

As things stand now, the state is poised to begin its Florida Standards Assessments in the spring, replacing the FCAT. Passing scores will not be adopted until afterward, so schools will not be held accountable for state grades in 2015. But the full accountability system, complete with school grades, rewards and penalties — all based on test scores — is set to return in 2016 unless the Legislature changes course.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

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