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Testing Bill Gets Time Out Amid Senate Education Committee Dispute

A Senate education panel has temporarily postponed a school testing overhaul bill—putting one of the two major testing proposals in jeopardy.

Earlier this month a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by  Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, derided Florida’s school testing system and vowed to change the way students are tested, schools, graded and teachers evaluated.

"We have heard from parents, we have heard from teachers, we have heard from students that they need relief," Montford said at the time.

His proposal eliminates end-of-course exams in certain subjects, does away with the state’s controversial teacher evaluation formula and allows districts to use the SAT and ACT in place of other state exams. The antipathy over testing has built on years of increasing public concerns, fueled by vocal parent groups who say Florida is over-testing its students, and getting little to nothing in return. Montford says his bill is just common sense.

“It puts control back in the hands of our teachers, principals and parents. It eliminates duplicative testing. Most of all, it lets our teachers get back to teaching.”

The effort at an overhaul follows a vow by Senate Education Committee David Simmons who has promised changes are on the way. It’s also being supported by former Senate President Tom Lee, who at one point approved of the state’s testing system, but has now come to say it’s gone too far.

“The time has come to address this issue. There’s a growing chorus of people who are frustrated with the magnitude of testing going on in the system," Lee said. "There’s another bill in the process right now that I also think is a reflection of acknowledgement of a problem. That bill has great talking points, but if you read it, it does nothing.”  

That other bill is a proposal by Republican Senator Anitere Flores. Her “Fewer Better Testing” proposal is being cheered by the Foundation for Florida’s Future, former governor Jeb Bush’s education advocacy group. But it’s running headlong into opposition from parent groups like Sue Woltanski’s Common Ground.

“The other bill, if it were to pass with the proficiency levels included, would massively increase failure rates. School grades would plummet. District grades would plummet." she claims.

Woltanski says Flores’ proposal does nothing to limit testing in the state. And she’s worried language in the bill requiring Florida to align its student scoring scale to that of a national test called NAEP, will only hurt students. Woltanski says her group would much rather have Sen. Montford’s bill.

“Is it perfect? No...there’s still work to do, we wouldn’t be back to complete common sense, but it’s a step in the right direction," she says.

Flores’ bill was slated to be heard Monday. But was temporarily postponed by Sen. Tom Lee. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Lee expressed concerns about a series of amendments by Sen. David Simmons that would have moved Flores' bill closer to Montford's. He called it a Republican attempt to hijack the legislation.