Legislative Update on Testing Bills

The Senate Education Committee met on March 4th to discuss a proposed committee substitute for SB 616.  The bill, sponsored by committee chairman John Legg, makes some good attempts to begin to deal with the testing issue, but given the severe extent of problems, needs additional protections for student and parental rights, privacy and other issues. The bill works to have a 5% cap on testing, which is a step in the right direction,  but does not explain who is going to and how the time is going to be kept on different students who take different tests especially in high school.  It gets rid of the 11th grade Reading/English test and keeps the 10th grade high stakes test.  It allows districts to seek a waiver on school grades if they so choose for technological or financial reasons.  However, if they choose that option they cannot qualify for any kind of performance bonuses even if the problems are beyond their control.  The bill also decreases the percentage for which test scores are used in teacher evaluations. 

Several common sense amendments by Senator Bullard that would have enhanced these good first steps were rejected along party lines. One of these amendments allowed a paper/pencil alternative for testing that deals with technology issues and would have also protected students from the manipulative and data mining aspects of computerized testing.  This is the same language contained in his bill SB 1450, the Senate companion to Rep. Debbie Mayfield's HB 877, analyzed here.  

The DOE is now saying in response to emailed inquiries that the FSA is not nor will be adaptive, meaning that the questions change based on the answers to the previous question.  However, that is new news and somewhat difficult to accept and verify given AIR's development of the computer adaptive testing platform for SBAC, the other federal Common Core test; the fact that Utah's test, from which Florida is paying another $16 million dollars to lease questions, is also adaptive; and the very disturbing fact that there is no way to verify what is being said, because no one can see the test. 

This is especially important given the geographically widespread reports of sociological survey questions involving smoking habits which were reported by various parents around the state and given at the end of the FSA testing.  The DOE is saying that parents must be mixing up the FSA administration with the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey. We are trying to verify the accuracy of these statements and will report on this as soon as possible.

The amendments were struck down and the bill passed along party lines which is a sad commentary that political issues are more important than the well-being of our state's school children, as mentioned by the excellent testimony of Catherine Baer (See video at  , chairwoman of FSCCC partner organization, The Tea party Network.   FSCCC appreciates that the Senate is delaying further action on the bill until the testing window is complete, so that they may understand the full extent of the many issues related to the problematic FSA roll-out.

The House Education Committee began consideration of Proposed Committee Bill (PCB) 15A-4, a 70 page committee bill on testing on March 5th by Rep. Marlene O'Toole, the chairwoman.  It is somewhat unclear how all will play out on the House side as this bill is being heard while Rep. O'Toole is undergoing the penalty phase of an ethics investigation for voting to fund an education organization from which she receives financial compensation.   The bill attempts to deal with some of the testing issues but took a different approach than the Senate in that it had a heavy emphasis on third grade reading and retention. 

Dr. Effrem testified (see video HERE at 1:09:49) on a seeming contradiction that the bill in one section stated that parents were to be notified that retention was not to be based solely on the results of just one test. However, in another section, it states that if a child doesn't receive a certain test on a standardized reading test that they are to be retained.  Dr. Effrem also discussed the lack of accountability for the extremely flawed and problematic roll out of the testing this week in Florida.  The flagrant violation of the load testing law and this roll out is yet another black mark on the record of AIR.  She recommended canceling the AIR contract, offering a paper/pencil alternative, allowing public schools to be able to choose the same nationally normed reference tests that are reliable and used by private and home schools. These second two items are recommended in Rep. Mayfield's excellent focused bill HB 877.  This concept of "providing more freedom to traditional public schools" was discussed by former governor Bush during the Tallahassee Education Summit (28:10).   Dr. Effrem also recommended prohibiting non-academic questions within assessments that are supposed to be academic and believed by parents to be academic assessments and strengthening student data privacy laws at both the state and national level.  The bill was then passed by the full committee during the March 9th meeting without any amendments.

It was reported at that meeting that meeting that the Department of Education is now blaming the disastrous rollout of the FSA on a cyber-attack on the servers of the testing vendor, the scandal and problem-prone American Institutes for Research (AIR).  We analyzed that issue in a separate report.

Much lobbying occurred by citizens and groups opposed to Common Core on March 4th and 5th and continues.  Many legislators were briefed on HB743/877 and SB1406/1450 by Rep. Debbie Mayfield and Senator Dwight Bullard, as well as HB 1121 by Rep. John Tobia and SB 1496 by Senator Greg Evers, with the goal of obtaining co-sponsorship and with positive results.  House co-sponsors of the Mayfield bill on testing (HB 877) as of March 10th are Rep. Larry Ahern, Rep. Neil Combee, Rep. Brad Drake, Rep. Dane Eagle, Rep. Ray Pilon, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, and Rep. Charles Van Zant.  Sponsors of the Mayfield bill on educational sovereignty (HB 743) are Reps. Ahern, Combee, Pilon, Sullivan, and Van Zant.  House co-sponsors of the Tobia education bill on these subjects (HB 1121) are Rep. Halsey Beshears, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda, Rep. Ray Rodriguez, as well as Reps. Drake, Eagle, and Van Zant.  All of these representatives are Republicans and we are extremely grateful to every one of them.   None of the Senate versions of these bills currently have any co-sponsors, but we are also extremely grateful to Senators Bullard and Evers.

Please call your representatives and thank them for their sponsorship if that is the case or urge them to sponsor these important bills.  Please also thank Senators Bullard and Evers and then your senator and have them do the same. Please stay tuned as this will be a very hot issue all through the legislative session and finally, please remember that your financial support is crucial to fighting this David vs. Goliath battle. Thank you!

Posted in Testing. Tagged as FSA, Rep. Brad Drake, Rep. Charles Van Zant, Rep. Dane Eagle, Rep. Debbie Mayfield, Rep. Halsey Beshears, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, Rep. John Tobia, Rep. Larry Ahern, Rep. Marlene O'Toole, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda, Rep. Neil Combee, Rep. Ray Pilon, Rep. Ray Rodriguez, Senator Dwight Bullard, Senator Greg Evers, Senator John Legg.


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