Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed a wide-ranging bill aimed at rolling back the number of tests given to public school students, capping off a discussion that saw Florida Republicans ease back at least slightly on a longstanding principle of the state’s education-reform movement.
Scott’s office announced that he had signed the high-profile measure, following up on weeks of legislative wrangling and his own campaign promise to review the level of testing in schools.
“I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office.
The legislation (HB 7069) was the most closely-watched education bill of the 2015 session.
It puts a hold on the use of student test data for school grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion to fourth grade until the new Florida Standards Assessments can be independently validated. It also scraps a law requiring school districts to come up with end-of-course tests in classes where the state doesn’t administer such exams; caps the amount of time students can spend on state and school district tests at 45 hours a year; and reduces the portion of a teacher’s evaluation tied to student performance from the current 50 percent to one-third.
While over-testing was already a key concern heading into the session, the issue was fueled by technical problems with the online platform used by some of the assessments. American Institutes for Research, a non-profit group that signed a six-year, $220 million deal with the state to develop the standardized tests, has accepted responsibility for the problems. The bill signed by Scott outlines how any damages paid by AIR should be distributed.
Groups on both sides of the normally heated testing debate backed the final product.
“This morning, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that achieves ‘fewer, better tests’ for Florida students,” wrote Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, in an open letter. “But it actually does much more than that. It’s a bill that refines policies while sending the resounding message that Florida will measure what matters — student learning.”
Levesque’s group was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush and is a strong supporter of the state’s accountability movement, which some critics blame for the testing craze.
Meanwhile, the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said it sent a letter to the governor Tuesday, before Scott’s announcement, calling for him to approve the bill.
“In short, we support this legislation as a first step, but hope that you will continue the effort to make sure that Florida’s education accountability is built to serve the learning needs of children and the legitimate data needs of the adults that serve them,” wrote FEA President Andy Ford.