Florida lawmakers are again tinkering with the state’s school grading and testing system. The changes follow the rollout of new learning standards the Department of Education is using to replace Common Core. Teachers and school administrators worry the bill amounts to too much change, too fast, and say it could hurt schools that serve low-income students the most.
The part of the proposal most worrisome for teachers and public school administrators gives less time for districts to turn around failing schools. If they don’t, under current law, those schools face closure, being converted into a charter school, or handed off to an outside operator. There is a contingency: if the state decides a school is on track for a “C” grade and is meeting its turnaround plan, it could grant the school an extension.
“The state board has historically granted and taken those considerations as factors in approving extra extensions for those schools when they can demonstrate that’s in place," Rep. Vance Aloupis, (R-Miami) told members of the House Education Committee.
A similar situation recently happened in Escambia County.
Aloupis' bill eliminates the Geometry end-of-course exam and replaces it with the SAT or ACT. The Commissioner of Education would have to get a federal waiver to make the change.
The proposal also requires students to take civics and pass a civics literacy test as part of an effort to align state law with the new B.E.S.T standards the Florida Department of Education rolled out earlier this month. But the change in standards, coupled with the tighter time frame to turnaround schools, may be too much change at once.
“We’re looking at implementing this year new standards, new curriculum, new cut scores. [That’s] a lot of turmoil for students learning a new system, while you’re also implementing a quick turnaround for change," warned Leon County teacher Sheila Watson. "We don’t think that’s in the best interest of our students.”
Under current law, schools have at minimum two years to improve their grades, and the penalties apply to those that receive an “F” or two “D” grades in a row. Aloupis’ plan would apply to those that receive either an “F” or a single “D” grade at would give schools about a year to make changes. Hartsfield Elementary School Principal Rhonda Blackwell told the House Education Committee her school, in Tallahassee, could be hurt by the turnaround changes.
“I would encourage you to really research the impact of this bill and how it impacts Title I schools," she said.
"Allocating resources when grades fall then taking resources away when they improve is not the effort. Schools that educate students in poverty need ongoing resources and support throughout the school improvement process. I am the boots on the ground. And how you vote will directly impact me, the work that I do, the teachers and staff that I have hired, and the students sitting in the 440 seats in my school.”
The measure allows turnaround schools to hang on to their supplemental funding for longer. It was comments similar to Blackwell’s next ones that generated a response from Rep. Byron Donalds.
“Students don’t get multiple years to go over their education," Donalds said. " They get one shot at this through the continuum of kindergarten through 12th grade. So going from a two-year "D" system, to a one- year "D" system puts additional pressure on administrators. I’m sorry, but the students are the ones that matter more than what an administrator has to go through.”
Democrats are largely resigned to the eventual passage of the bill. They acknowledge they don’t have the number of votes needed to stop it. The plan is being fast-tracked as the legislature is well past the mid-point in the lawmaking session.