Gov. Rick Scott wants students getting tax credit scholarships to take state tests

Published Dec. 13, 2012

TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott wants students who use tax-credit scholarships to attend private schools to take the same standardized tests as their peers in public schools, stirring a backlash from some private schools.

Scott said Wednesday night that he plans to include these private-school students in Common Core State Standards tests, which would replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in 2014 under his education proposal to the Legislature.

"Ultimately, everybody is going to Common Core," he said at a reception in Tampa for administrators of the scholarships and student recipients.

Created in 2001, the scholarships are funded by corporate contributions that receive a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit. The vouchers, available to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, are for up to $4,335.

While some private schools like to rank students statewide, others call the tests a waste.

Barbara Bedingfield, founding director of Suncoast Waldorf School in Palm Harbor, dislikes the idea of teaching to the tests.

"It's like planting a plant and pulling it up out of the ground repeatedly to see how it's doing," she said. "Of course it's not going to thrive."

Twenty-one of the 108 students at her school are on the scholarships and currently take national tests required to get the funds. They don't prepare for the test, Bedingfield said.

Some private schools refused to administer the national tests until they heard they wouldn't get funding without them, said John Kirtley, chairman of Step Up for Students, which helps oversee the program. Currently, he said, 50,000 students statewide use the scholarships.

He said 48 states have committed to joining the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which will give it a national comparison. Considering this, he thinks arguments about the new testing for private schools will dissolve.

State House Speaker Will Weatherford said he is open to a debate about state testing in private schools but, he said, "to me, I think there's nothing flawed about the system as it is."

Dawna Nifong, director of the American Montessori Academy in Pinellas Park, doesn't mind state testing if reasonably priced.

"I think private schools should be held accountable," she said.

Lincoln Tamayo, head of Academy Prep Center of Tampa, opposes the notion of being obsessed with high-stakes testing.

"We would lose art, music, chess all to worship at the altar of the state tests," he said. "I don't want that rammed down on us."

His students come to school on grade level or below and leave at two or three grades above level, he said. They take the Stanford 10 at the end of each year.

Carrie Grebenev of Clearwater chose to send her daughter to the Waldorf school. There, she learned to think for herself rather than having facts shoved at her to memorize, Grebenev said.

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"I don't want my child to be standard," she said. "I certainly would like the governor to know that I think we should not add standardized testing to private schools."