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House Education Committee talks school accountability reform

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The House Education Committee spent about an hour Monday discussing and approving an overhaul of Florida’s testing-focused school accountability program.

The measure was approved on a unanimous vote. Read a staff analysis here.

Chair Marlene O’Toole said last week she wanted to get the measure to the floor as quickly as possible and Monday committee members backed their chair and moved the proposal along.

Representatives of the hospitality industry had couched their objections to a potentially earlier start date for the school year contained in the measure by saying they wished their was a box other than for or against to check; seemingly endorsing the bill except for the school start date.

“We’re not through with this. It has a way to go,” said O’Toole before the vote and then she told onlookers to contact her or staff about questions concerning the language.

The proposal would give school districts the option of starting the school year on Aug. 10. Tourism interests fear an earlier start would reduce the number of families taking vacations in August. The measure also eliminate a readiness test and a language arts test for 11th-graders.

Educators and parents who are pushing back against the amount of testing in schools say the proposal misses the mark by not recognizing that their complaints signify a bigger program – an over-reliance on testing.

They argue linking teacher and student evaluations to state mandated testing incentivizes districts to schedule other tests as part of the effort to prepare students for the state test.

“We believe that districts are addressing one of the weaknesses of the high-stakes accountability system by choosing to use locally developed or commercial products to make sure students are on track for the high-stakes consequences of the state assessments,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.

The teachers’ union is backing a one-year moratorium on using the test results for student promotions and teacher evaluations.

The Senate is working on a companion bill but chair state Sen. John Legg has put it on hold while officials investigate technical glitches that prevented testing last week in some districts.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced Monday that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating cyber attacks on a server used to administer the test – the Florida Standards Assessment.

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