Florida Lawmakers Take On Testing Debate

Jan 7, 2015

Credit educationews.org

It’s now the Florida legislature’s turn to start weighing in on the state of testing in public schools.

Former Senate President and education appropriations committee chairman Don Gaetz wants to know how much the state spends on standardized testing. That’s a question which doesn’t have an easy answer, as captured in this exchange between Gaetz and the Department of Education’s Vince Burgess:

Gaetz: “You’re telling me the total cost of all assessments and tests required by the state is $90 million? That’s the all in cost?

Burgess: “That’s correct. That does not include the teacher-selected or district selected tests—

Gaetz: “Try again. Let’s see if we can’t get to a real number.”  

During the past year, school district administrators, parents and teachers have grown increasingly frustrated with what critics say is an out-of-control testing system. Part of the problem is due to the myriad of state laws that address testing—and which mandate it.

Maitland Republican Senator David Simmons likens the testing structure to Paris, “built up over a period time so that’s it’s just a jumbled group of roads that our school districts are trying to navigate.”  

Simmons says just because there’s a law mandating a test, does not mean that test is necessary. School districts report up to a third of the school year is spent administering some type of exam. That doesn’t mean a student spends that much time taking tests. But it’s enough of a problem that there’s growing consensus on both sides of the aisle that it’s time for the legislature to consider scaling back. One area generates a lot of scorn: subjecting kindergarten students to end-of-course tests.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about kindergarten," said Tallahassee Democratic Senator Bill Montford. "Quite frankly, when you say every grade, every subject area, that’s been interpreted by school districts as meaning in kindergarten every grade, and every subject. They don’t have the flexibility of not testing every grade, every subject.”

The Florida Department of Education says schools do have flexibility in what they use but that the law is clear that even kindergarteners have to be assessed somehow. As the state and the legislature move forward, teachers are concerned about how changes in the system could affect their evaluations. Many of the newer tests, such as end-of-course exams—are factored into teacher evaluations.