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  1. Education

Testing will ease up in Hillsborough classrooms

TAMPA — Children in the Hillsborough County public schools can look forward to less testing in the coming year as the district responds to a backlash that has existed nationwide for years.

At a School Board workshop Tuesday, administrators handed out a list four pages long of routine tests, many with strike lines to show they will no longer be required.

Instead, teachers and principals will be able to choose which tests to administer, how to use them, and when to schedule them.

"Now it's more of a flexible option for a teacher to determine, is this class ready for that test?" said Anna Brown, the district's chief information and technology officer. "Or is a group of students ready?"

The changes do not affect state-mandated tests such as the Florida Standards Assessment.

But for at least three years, teachers and parents have complained of the cumulative effect of district-issued "formative tests," which measure what children know early in the year, followed by a slew of end-of-the-year tests.

Those early tests include a baseline writing assessment for middle school, a kindergarten readiness screener, a fifth-grade science pretest and English language interim assessments in second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-grades.

All, under the old system, came with dates assigned with the teachers.

Relentless testing also turns media centers into testing labs that are off-limit to students for months in the spring, and ties up school employees who are needed to proctor the exams. Guidance counselors are hit especially hard by this burden.

Brown said she anticipates those demands will be slightly lower under the new system.

While the cuts began with elementary school, officials will continue to look for ways to reduce testing in middle and high school as well.

They are even avoiding the word "testing," migrating to the phrase "progress monitoring" instead.

To get the word out to the district's 16,000 teachers, the district plans to post a video message from superintendent Jeff Eakins shortly.

Eakins said the changes are consistent with his broader goal of giving more autonomy to teachers, principals and area superintendents.

Teachers, he said, "have their students in front of them. We don't see their students. They do."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

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