Gov. Rick Scott signs bill that scales back testing

Gov. Rick Scott Gov. Scott says he “will keep working to make sure Florida students are not overtested.”
Gov. Rick Scott Gov. Scott says he “will keep working to make sure Florida students are not overtested.”
Published April 15, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Responding to a parent-driven charge to scale back testing in public schools, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed legislation to eliminate at least one exam and delay the release of school grades until the other exams are deemed valid.

But some parent and teacher groups say the Republican governor should do more to ease the burden on schoolchildren.

The statewide teachers union called on Scott to work with state education officials to ensure that most of the school year is devoted to instruction — and to ensure that no students or teachers are penalized due to failures in the school accountability system.

The grass roots group, Parents Across America, is hoping Scott will go even further.

"We plan to coordinate with other Florida parent groups to request Gov. Scott consider an executive order to hold students harmless during this unpiloted transitional period as other GOP governors have," founder Rita Solnet said.

Scott, in a statement Tuesday, conceded there was still much work to be done on the issue of testing.

"I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not overtested," he said.

But he did not seem interested in issuing an executive order, as he did in February to suspend the 11th-grade English exam for the current school year.

"I think we did the right thing through the legislative process," he told reporters late Tuesday.

The bill (HB 7069) permanently eliminates the 11th-grade English exam targeted in Scott's executive order. It also removes a requirement that local school districts create exams for every subject not covered by a state assessment, and limits the total number of hours students can spend on state-mandated tests.

What's more, the legislation addresses parent concerns about the validity of the tests by requiring outside experts to review the new Florida Standards Assessments. Until a review is completed, the test results cannot be used to make high-stakes decisions, such as whether third-grade students can be promoted.

A separate provision of the bill allows school districts to start classes as early as Aug. 10. But some districts have already said they will not start that early in 2015 because many families have already planned their summer vacations.

Florida Education Association president Andy Ford on Tuesday sent a letter urging Scott to support the bill, but also cautioned that it would do little to reduce the disruption caused by the state exams.

"The inflexible requirements that all state testing be online will continue to deprive students of meaningful instructional time because schools are turned into testing centers for nearly two months of each year," he wrote, pointing out that students have substitute teachers and are displaced from their classrooms during the testing season.

Ford said much of the problem could be mitigated by the use of paper-and-pencil tests until schools have one computer for each student.

"We support this legislation a first step, but hope that you will continue the effort to make sure Florida's education accountability is built to serve the learning needs of children and the legitimate needs of the adults that serve them," he said.

Mindy Gould, who oversees public policy for the Miami-Dade Council of PTAs/PTSAs, said her organization planned to appeal to Scott, too. "We're going to turn to the governor and see if he will go further," she said.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at Follow @kmcgrory.