TALLAHASSEE High-school juniors across Florida rejoiced Tuesday upon learning that Gov. Rick Scott had suspended the new 11th grade test in language arts.
The move, coming only a week before the start of the 2015 legislative session, also won praise from school district leaders. "It is a step in the right direction," Pinellas Superintendent Mike Grego said.
Critics, however, said Scott did not go far enough to address problems with the state's standardized testing program.
Parents and teachers have said schoolchildren are bombarded with annual exams. There are also mounting concerns over the Florida Standards Assessments, a battery of new tests that will debut next week. How students perform will help determine school grades and teacher pay.
"We believe the 11th graders shouldn't be subject to that test," Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said. "But [Scott's executive order] does very little in the scheme of things."
The executive order applies exclusively to the 11th grade language arts test.
The exam had been the subject of criticism, largely because it would not have been a graduation requirement. Some teachers and superintendents feared students would have no incentive to do well — and their scores would have hurt school grades and teacher salaries.
This year would have been the first time high-school juniors in Florida took a state-mandated test in language arts.
Senate K-12 Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said suspending the test made sense for this year. But he was not ready to say the 11th grade language arts test should be eliminated indefinitely.
"We are seeing both anecdotally and in the research that when kids get out of the 10th grade, they start to regress because there is little accountability," Legg said. "We have to find ways to make the 11th and 12th grades relevant."
Legg's committee is working on a bill that would address concerns about the tests.
He and other state senators are considering limiting the number of hours students can spend taking exams, and reducing the extent to which student test scores factor into teacher salaries.
"We have a tremendous amount of work ahead," Legg said.
After signing the executive order Tuesday, Scott spent two hours meeting with the state's top teachers in the Capitol. The educators applauded his decision to suspend the 11th grade test, but said they were worried about the new exams and performance pay system.
"I'm very comfortable that we're going to do well," Scott said. "And I'm very comfortable that we are going to have a system that is accountable, and the best teachers, the best superintendents, and the best principals are going to do well."
Students across the state had no qualms.
At Land O'Lakes High School in Pasco County, juniors raised their arms and cheered to celebrate the governor's order suspending the exam.
"At this time of year, we have a lot of stuff coming up," said Albert Brotgandel, 16, listing a variety of other tests that run to the end of the semester. "Using time for a state assessment is a bit of a loss for us."
Junior Glenn Johnson said he was a bit scared about the exam, although the practice demonstrated it wasn't too hard — just time consuming.
Canceling the test "is like a load off for most of us," said Johnson, 17. "Junior year is my hardest year. This makes it a lot easier for us."
Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com. Follow @kmcgrory.