1. Florida

Seminole School Board takes lead in new Florida testing reform effort

Leaders of a suburban Orlando school district with some of Florida's best standardized test results have taken the lead in the ongoing effort to reform the state's high-stakes assessment system.

They're actively promoting what they call the Seminole Solution -- a move from the time-intensive Florida Standards Assessments to a nationally norm-referenced test -- capturing the attention of other district officials who like what they see. Lake and Manatee school boards have endorsed the idea most recently, with many more considering it.

"I would be open to that," Pasco School Board chairman Steve Luikart told the Gradebook. "I need to do a little more investigative work. If everybody joins in, maybe (the state) will make some changes. I'm a firm believer that this testing stuff is way out of whack."

That's the general sentiment driving the Seminole County School Board and superintendent behind the initiative. They contend that students need to spend more time learning, and teachers teaching, with less emphasis on testing than the FSA allows.

National tests could work, they suggest, as Florida's standards -- which education commissioner Pam Stewart and others have argued are specific to the state -- actually coincide with the Common Core on more than 90 percent of items.

They've made a case to the Department of Education. (See superintendent Walt Griffin's June letter to Stewart.) But Stewart poured cold water on the idea.

Rather than give up, district officials changed tactics.

"We keep, as school districts, going to DOE because we've been programmed to get answers from DOE. But all the DOE gives us is a regurgitation of the law," said Seminole board vice chairwoman Amy Lockhart. "If the law is the problem, let's change it. ... There is no point in engaging the DOE any more."

Instead, Seminole is gathering support from as many districts as possible, and then making its case directly to the Florida Board of Education -- ostensibly the commissioner's boss -- and to the Legislature. In talking to their local delegation, Lockhart said, Seminole district officials heard that the lawmakers didn't always understand the implications of the laws they approved.

"Now they're very interested in hearing what they could do to change the law and fix the system," she said.

Hence the Seminole Solution.

The board held a lengthy meeting on the subject Tuesday. (See the Orlando Sentinel's report for details.) Lockhart noted that answers to questions generated additional questions. But if people keep their eyes on the prize, she said, perhaps they can make a difference this year for teachers and students. Don't forget, just a year ago the Lee School Board sparked a statewide testing debate that led to law changes in the spring.

Want to know more about the Seminole plan? See the district's presentation and its rationale for specifics.