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After Turbulent Process, Senate Sends Testing & Recess Bill To House


There’s only one day left for lawmakers to decide what the state of testing will be in Florida’s public schools. It's now up to the House to decide what to do with testing and recess.

In the beginning, there was a promise. Testing changes were on the horizon.

“We cannot spend time testing when we should be teaching. When you’re teaching, you’re learning," said Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland.

Those words were quickly followed up by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who promised “fewer, better tests”. But her Senate Bill 926 was instantly slammed.

“That bill has great talking points, but if you read it does nothing," said Sen. Tom Lee in a March press conference touting another bill, that of Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

Montford's proposal  eliminated all end of course exams, restored the paper and pencil testing option to most public school kids and did away with the controversial teacher evaluation tool called VAM (value-added model). Montford heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, and his bill was the favorite among public school advocates, educators and even his fellow lawmakers. But it was always a long shot in the House. And in the end, Senate leaders decided to go with Flores’ bill.  SB 926 grew to add in Montford’s testing language, and additional requirements for another favorited plan: mandatory recess. Yet both were seen as steps too far in the House. In that chamber, lawmakers began work on another plan—House Bill 549 by Republican Representative Randy Fine, which received some extra amendments by Representative Manny DiazWith Diaz's own House Bill 773--lawmakers had three testing-related proposals on the table.

Fast-forward to now. Flores’ main testing and recess bill has been postponed twice in the Senate. Diaz’s bill died a little while ago. Now, there’s only one measure left standing—that of Representative Fine. And that’s the one the Senators took up Thursday, with a substantial amendment.

“First the bill modifies the statewide assessment program, it eliminates certain tests, we know this has been a major issue for us over the last couple years. It eliminates the Algebra 2 exam," said Flores, reading from a massive strike-all amendment covering everything from pushing back when tests are administered to allowing students to wear sunscreen.

One of the strongest endorsers of the measure is Democratic Senator Bill Montford. His original proposal eliminated the teacher evaluation tool called VAM, let kids use paper and pencil tests, and reducing the number of them. All elements have made it into the final product, which Montford says isn’t quite what he wanted, but, "I’m wise enough. I can count. And this is a good beginning.”

For Flores, the best part of the bill is a plan to mandate recess in elementary schools.  

“For all those recess moms, dads, parents and grandparents and children watching.  We’re not quite there. But we’re so close to the end of the game for this to be in our favor . We’re at the two yard line. we’re really close.”

Now, it’s the House’s turn to take the bill into the end zone.