Pasco schools cut more exams, following a growing movement to reduce testing

Following the lead of other area districts, end-of-course tests are made optional.
Published April 30 2015
Updated May 1 2015

LAND O'LAKES — Less than a month after eliminating a handful of local end-of-course tests, Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning has gotten rid of the rest of them.

Browning announced Thursday that all district-level tests in every course will be available for teachers to use, but they will be optional. He made the decision days before students were to begin taking the exams for the first time.

The move does not affect state end-of-course exams in algebra, geometry, U.S. history, civics and biology.

"It's the right thing for students," Browning said.

Michele Grady, a Land O'Lakes High School parent, agreed.

"I think it is important to assess the students," Grady said after hearing the news. "But with all of the testing they're being bombarded with, especially now, I think this is something that is going to cause a lot less stress in our students."

The tests —about 300 in all — were to be administered starting next week as part of a state law designed to increase the use of student performance data in evaluating teachers. The mandate required districts to assess every child in every course not already covered by a state exam, but lawmakers rescinded it in March as part of an overall push to reduce testing.

With the change, Pasco students will not have to take both a district test and a course final exam. Their teachers will still have to give a final standards-based test, which can be the district one or a teacher-developed, principal-approved alternate.

Either way, Browning said, he expected them to take place during the last week of school, after teachers complete their instruction. Many teachers and parents have questioned why students must take tests weeks before their courses are to end.

"They said they needed more time on subjects they hadn't taught yet," Browning said. "I just gave them three weeks back."

Teachers started emailing Browning their thanks shortly after word of the testing cuts spread.

"Bravo, for taking our students and teachers into consideration. Good job," wrote Charles Kohl, a civics teacher at Bayonet Point Middle.

District director of assessment Peggy Jones said the testing changes would not affect teacher evaluations, which must be based in part on student performance data such as test results.

The district tests were not part of the evaluation equation for this year, anyway, as they were still being field-tested this spring, she said. Instead, teachers who don't have a specific state test in their subject will get the outcomes of their students on either the Florida Standards Assessments language arts exam or a college-readiness test, such as the ACT, SAT or PERT.

Browning has said he received some pressure from parents to not count the state end-of-course exams as 30 percent of a student's course grade, as the Lee County School Board recently voted to do.

State officials have said that action would violate Florida law, though. Instead, Browning chose to follow in the footsteps of other districts, including Pinellas, Miami-Dade and Broward, which cut their local tests in recent days after lawmakers gave them the green light to do so.

School Board member Alison Crumbley praised the administration for its handling of the testing issue, and lawmakers for giving local officials the flexibility they desired.

"The closer you are to the actual level of where things are happening, I think you get the better results," Crumbley said.

Browning's decision affects the current year for Pasco schools. The superintendent said he would use the coming months to craft a testing plan for the future.

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

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