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Testing and accountability debated in the Senate

After several hours of debate and public comment, Senate Bill 616 was adopted by the Senate Appropriations committee today, moving the conversation about testing and accountability forward. This was a crucial discussion - here's a quick synopsis of some points education advocates should know about this bill:

  • The most debated subjects of the day were a set of amendments proposed by Sen. Hays (R-Lake) and Sen. Simmons (R-Seminole) regarding the need for validation of the new Florida Standards Assessments by an independent auditor, and what the assessments could or could not be used for until that validation took place. The amendment proposed by Sen. Hays would have prohibited the use of FSA scores in determining third grade retention decisions, high school graduation decisions, professional evaluations, and school grades. In an updated - and ultimately successful - version of this amendment  proposed by Sen. Simmons, the prohibitions on using FSA scores for professional evaluations and school grades were removed, and language governing how the new FSA English/Language Arts assessment should be used to identify and support at-risk students was inserted. As it moves forward for further review, the current version of the bill would not allow 2014-15 FSA standards to be used alone to determine third grade retention or high school graduation until the independent validation of the FSAs is completed, though it would allow those test results to determine teacher evaluations and school grades.
  • The bill reduces the percentage of a teacher's total performance evaluation required to be based on student performance from 50 percent to 33 percent and offers districts more flexibility in options for other portions of a teacher's overall review.
  • The bill proposes capping the amount of time a student spends in state or district required testing to no more than 5 percent of the student's total academic year, a topic we look at in more detail in this new white paper and interactive visualization.
  • In general, there was extensive debate and public comment over the best ways to balance accountability and high standards with fairness and common sense on the short time table available for this year's assessments. Unlike the companion House bill, HB7069, which passed unanimously out of the House, this bill is likely to undergo much more review and debate before a consensus is reached.
  • You can find more information about these bills, and a side by side comparison here.


The amendments and debate today obviously raise a number of critical questions, some of which we've raised ourselves before in our school grades research and proposals for taking advantage of this critical transition year by taking a pause to review the system as a whole and be sure we get it right for our students, teachers and families.  

Senators in the committee agreed that the bill still needs revisions. Now is the time to make your voice heard on this issue! You can use this easy tool to write to your elected lawmakers.

Keep checking back here for more updates as this and other bills continue moving through this busy and critical legislative session.

And we'll have additional updates on Monday, March 30 at the ONE by ONE meeting. Register here.

-- Jason Rose