Classroom. Credit: Getty Images
A trio of education bills passed by the Senate K-12 education committee, all priorities for Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, could ease the burden standardized tests place on students. However, critics say they don’t go far enough to address the state’s educational needs.
One of the bills would allow parents more power to determine whether their third-graders should move to the next grade.
Florida law mandates that third-graders who do not score a Level 2 or above on the Florida Standards Assessment English Language Arts assessment, graded on a scale of 1 to 5, cannot be promoted to the fourth grade. However, a student can achieve certain “good cause exemptions” to move up — for example, if they do well on an alternative standardized test, earn grades that show their proficiency, or have a disability.
A Senate analysis of the bill says it will “expand parental rights” in line with the 2021 Parental Bill of Rights, legislation championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that states, “It is a fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their minor children.”
If a parent wants their student to move up, they would be able to work with the school to create an intervention plan in lieu of a passing English assessment score. Aspects of the plan could include read-at-home sessions, participation in a school district’s summer reading camp, or 90-minute daily reading instruction sessions.
Sen. Lori Berman, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, said during a Wednesday meeting of the Education Pre-K-12 Committee that the rule would allow parents to “basically overrule any decision and say if they want their student to be able to move on.”
When she asked committee chair Sen. Corey Simon, representing the Tallahassee area, whether it was a change parents had demanded, he said he hadn’t seen anything to indicate that; instead, the idea arose from studies into how students retain reading ability during their first few years of schooling.
“When we look at this language — giving parents a seat at the table, we want to make sure that those parents also have a voice,” Simon said.
The bill could eliminate the requirement for students to pass the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam and 10th-grade English Language Arts tests to graduate from high school.
Simon said that the rationale for removing the “high-stakes testing” requirements was to place more emphasis on students’ classroom work over four years of high school as an indicator of progress.
“If that child has been able to display that they understand the work product, if their grades reflect that, then we shouldn’t be crippling these kids,” Simon said.
Demaris Allen, executive director of Families for Strong Public Schools, said she supported the reforms, as tests can be unfair indicators of student’s progress and performance.
“[Exams] are not a great assessment of a student’s ability,” Allen said. “It’s a great assessment of how they’re doing that day or, often, their socioeconomic status and things like that.”
In a Nov. 3 memorandum, Passidomo, a Republican from Collier County, called the effort to cut “burdensome regulation” in public schools a personal priority.
“Reducing this bureaucratic red tape will give public schools a meaningful chance to compete right alongside other school choice options,” the Senate president wrote.
Allen disagreed with that sentiment, calling the bills “more regulation than deregulation,” in that she feels private schools and homeschool situations are subject to less scrutiny from the state government that has allocated more than $4 billion for them.
“I really would love to see all taxpayer-funded schools be held to the same level of standards,” Allen said. “Ultimately, that helps parents to make an informed decision.”
The other two proposed bills aim to give more power to school boards for scheduling and using federal funds, and would streamline certification procedures for teachers.
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said that while he supports more autonomy for local school districts and making it easier for qualified teachers to get certified, the bills don’t address one of the biggest problems for educators: low pay. Florida’s average teacher salary is less than $52,000 — 48th in the country, according to the National Education Association.
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