Thanks to You SB 926 is Postponed: Media Round-up

March, 2017

Thanks to your great efforts, SB 926, the so-called "Fewer, Better Tests" bill that doesn't actually remove any tests, was postponed amidst a flurry of late-filed amendment that no one had a chance to read. Common Ground and individual members were featured prominently in several media reports. Here are some excerpts:

On the whole, SB 926 has been sharply criticized by parent groups and lawmakers, who have called the bill "useless."
"[The bill] does not truly eliminate any tests, so it's a big misnomer but even more concerning is language in it that ties proficiency on FSA to the NAEP," Florida Stop Common Core Coalition executive director Karen Effrem told Sunshine State News. It will actually do grievous harm and it will be hugely expensive in human and financial terms."

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who sponsors rival legislation to actually eliminate some tests in Florida, agreed. 

"That bill has great talking points, but if you read it, it does nothing," Lee has said. "It's very, very important that we have legislation that matches our talking points, and that when we go home and we say we did something to effect change, that we actually did that."

Opponents have also criticized SB 926 for tying Florida Standards Assessment cut scores beyond grade level proficiency by linking them to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test. 

NAEP is often considered one of the more rigorous national tests and education advocates have said its results are generally incomparable to statewide assessments. In 2016, the Florida Board of Education voted 6-1 to accept more lenient cut scores on the FSA, tying a level 4 to proficiency and keeping a 3 as "satisfactory."

Effrem and other critics of the bill fear students will fail at higher rates as a result of tying the FSA to NAEP, causing many of them to be held back a grade and resulting in a decline in school letter grades.

"The pass rate will go down significantly," Effrem said. 

James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat - Sen. Tom Lee hammers "Fewer, Better Tests" bill
"The bill (926) they had on the agenda today did nothing about testing," said Lee. "We have a Democratic member of the Senate who has three prime co-sponsors on his legislation and his bill is not up in committee . . . But instead, a piece of legislation (Flores') that essentially on its face does nothing is put up in committee. That is an affront to me and the members of the committee and to Sen. Montford."

Lee's action put the brakes on Flores' bill while Montford's remains unscheduled for a hearing.

There is a growing resistance to using standardized tests to measure student's learning gains. Parents and teachers complain that during the last two decades Florida has created a system that dominates the curriculum and school day.
Groups like Opt-Out Florida, Accountabaloney, The Tea Party Network and Stop Common Core have banded together into the Common Ground Coalition to pressure lawmakers to change a system they say benefits only the testing companies and "sucks the joy" out of learning, according to one former teacher.

Lee said that Flores' bill is an attempt by someone "on high" to get ahead of the problem.
"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.


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