Senate Passes Testing Bill Without Any Helpful Amendments

April, 2015

Despite excellent efforts on amendments by Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) and Senator Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), and some fantastic speeches by Hays, Bullard, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Lee (R-Hillsborough), the Senate passed the testing bill (SB 616) by a vote of 32-4 and changed its number to HB 7069, the same number as the House bill, on April 2nd.  The four "no" votes were all Democrats - Bullard, Jeff Clemens (Lake Worth), Gwen Margolis (Miami), and Geraldine Thompson (Orlando).

The fate of the bill was pretty much sealed when last minute shenanigans neutralized efforts to strengthen the language on validity that we discussed in our last alert.  Just to recap, Senator Hays' fabulous amendment in the Appropriations Committee to require independent verification of test validity before students, teachers, and districts were held accountable to high stakes decisions based on those tests was significantly watered down at the behest of leadership.  An amendment to strengthen that language was filed by Senator Montford and co-sponsored by Senator Hays for the floor debate, but those were thwarted by Senators Legg, Gaetz, and Montford who again filed a much weaker version for the final floor passage.  That final version still left third grade students unprotected from retention, tied high school graduation decisions to last year's test, which has validity problems of its own, made the panel that picked the organization to validate the test open to political whim and didn't even require panel members to be educators or testing experts.

Senator Bullard continued to offer the same important amendments on paper and pencil testing and norm referenced tests that are contained in the wonderful bills he sponsored along with Rep. Debbie Mayfield, but were sadly defeated on voice votes.  One very good Bullard amendment on validity was also defeated on a recoded vote mostly along party lines. We thank Senators Lee and Hays for bucking the leadership to cross party lines to support that amendment.

Senator Hays offered one other wonderful and very important amendment on standards that we had not previously mentioned.  That amendment would require instead of leaving optional the crucial doctrines of our Founding documents, the Holocaust, and important other topics that are already listed in statue 1003.42 that the inferior, inappropriate, and manipulative Common Core is  diminishing, twisting and crowding out of the curriculum. Senator Legg because of his great love for the Common Core/Florida standards and Jeb Bush's support for them would not allow the amendment and it failed.

Several senators, particularly Education Committee Chariman John Legg (R-Lutz) and former Senate President Don Gaetz (R -  Niceville), tried to defend Jeb Bush and separate him from the consequences of the horrific system that he started.  They worshipfully intoned the name of his PAC or quoted his various talking points.  Very few in the parent and activist communities were amused. 

Here, as some consolation, are the fabulous speeches by Senator Hays, who not only criticized the testing but called out Common Core, quoting some of the absurd math problems foisted on our students, while Senator Lee eloquently expressed his frustration with the testing system that has "lost common sense" and blamed the testing companies and foundations (like Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future) (the full session video is available HERE with Lee's speech from April 1st.):

The differences between the House and Senate versions can be reconciled by the House accepting the Senate bill or working out the differences in conference committee.  Regardless of the path chosen, there is very little to nothing left in the bill that will protect students from harm of an invalid test or taxpayers from the costs of the inevitable lawsuits.

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