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Pasco quarterly testing plan meets parent opposition

Pasco County parents and teachers oppose a new plan to test students’ progress on a quarterly basis.
Published Sep. 17, 2015

LAND O'LAKES — A proposal to streamline Pasco County's student testing ran into friction Tuesday as parents and teachers objected to the district's new direction.

Students would sit for required quarterly "checks" in all core curriculum areas, assistant superintendent Vanessa Hilton explained, to "help teachers answer a parent's question, 'How is my child doing in your class?' "

Calling the locally written exams "multitaskers," Hilton told the School Board that they would serve to meet state testing laws, while also giving teachers insight into student understanding of recently taught material. That information would inform future lessons, she added.

They would take the place of "traditional end-of-quarter tests," Hilton said.

The district introduced the concept in its 2015-16 assessment schedule, just months after making a big show of eliminating dozens of local end-of-course tests.

It fell flat with some parents, who attended the board meeting to speak against the schedule.

"Tests aren't necessary," said Megan Hendricks, noting that her elementary-age children are set to take 23 tests during the year. "Competent teachers are able to assess learning gains" using projects and other classroom lessons.

Deb Herbage, an activist in Florida's opt-out movement, also challenged the district's reliance on exam scores to rate students, teachers and schools.

"My fifth-grade daughter is starting to hate school because of all the tests," Herbage told the board.

Teachers attending the meeting raised additional concerns about the proposal.

Mitchell High math teacher Meredith Jewell noted that she and her colleagues had little information about the new exams, nearly halfway into the first quarter. She also worried about the effect on her own children, attending elementary school.

Land O'Lakes High math teacher Pat Connolly said he had never heard of a "traditional end-of-quarter exam," as Hilton described them. He suggested that students of teachers who help write the tests would have an unfair advantage.

"If we're going to be held to a standard and compared to each other, that ain't right," Connolly said. "I need to be kept in the light, not in the dark. I feel like a mushroom in this district."

Hilton said the quarterly exams will not be used for teacher evaluations. They will be used as part of students' grades.

School Board members adopted the assessment schedule without changes. They encouraged parents to continue raising their complaints to state lawmakers, who have set most of the rules.

"I understand your frustration," board member Alison Crumbley said. "We're trying our hardest."

In other business Tuesday, the School Board:

• Approved its 2015-16 budget of $1.2 billion, with a tax rate of $7.109 per $1,000 of assessed property value. No one spoke at the public hearing.

• Adopted a five-year facilities work plan, including $199.7 million worth of projects in 2015-16. Major initiatives include renovations at Anclote Elementary, Bayonet Point Middle and Marchman Technical, as well as construction of a new elementary school and a new high school.

• Recognized the Land O'Lakes High Unified Special Olympics soccer team, which recently won a bronze medal in world competition.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.

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