Legislation (CS/HB 7079) that makes sweeping changes to the state’s K-12 testing requirements and the process for helping low-performing schools cleared the House Education Committee Tuesday 13-3.
The bill, sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Vance Arthur Aloupis advanced despite some opposition from teachers and schools with large numbers of low-income schools. Democratic Reps. Susan Valdéz, Delores Hogan Johnson and Bruce Antone voted no.
The legislation aligns the state’s accountability system with the new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (BEST) Standards. It allows the elimination of the ninth grade English Language Arts exam and the 10th grade Geometry exam, contingent upon approval from the U.S. Department of Education. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran requested those changes in BEST Standards, which are intended to reduce high-stakes testing and get rid of Common Core. Those tests would be replaced by the requirement that juniors take the ACT or SAT, which the state would supply for free at a cost of $8 million.
Aloupis introduced an amendment to remove those tests from the school grades because of concerns they would disproportionately tip some schools’ grades because of variables like whether a school has more students who are college bound or on a vocational track.
“I have enormous concerns about the SAT and ACT being used in the school grading system,” he said. “And I have expressed my concerns to the chair, to staff, to everybody who’s been willing to hear it.”
Aloupis withdrew the amendment, but said he would introduce it on the floor if there’s no resolution by then.
Under the measure, low-performing schools, with scores of Ds or Fs, must implement a district-managed turnaround plan. It gives the schools the rest of the school year plus an additional year to turn things around. They could also get an additional year at the discretion of the State Board of Education if it’s likely the school will achieve a grade “C” or higher and keep that grade long-term. If the schools don’t raise their scores then, they would face closure, conversion into a charter school or relinquishing control to an outside operator. An amendment specifies that starting in the 2023-2024 school year, if a school earns a “D” or an “F” within three years after achieving a “C” it can only choose to close, become a charter or hand things over to an outside operator.
Public school teacher Sheila Watson said she opposes the shortened turnaround time for schools. Currently, a school wouldn’t have to do that unless it received two consecutive D’s or one F. Then the school district manages a two-year turnaround plan.
Catherine Boehme with Florida Education Association spoke in opposition on the assessment and turnaround aspects. She said that the state should do a validity study to make sure the SAT and ACT are aligned to the BEST Standards.
“The SAT and the ACT, well we don’t really know whether they’re aligned to standards or not,” she said. “The last time we changed standards, we did a validity study.”
Boehme also addressed her concerns with the changes to turnaround schools. She says there’s a clear bias against schools with large populations of low-income students.
“We really want our teachers to be able to go to our high-needs schools and feel comfortable taking their skills, talents and experience there,” she said. “Currently, they are so uncertain that it’s very difficult to attract teachers to high-needs schools.”
Boehme also expressed concern about stretching $45 million in supplemental funding for struggling schools because more schools will be in turnaround status.
The legislation would also require high school seniors to take a civics test. If they pass it, they wouldn’t have to take it in college, but they would still have to take a civics class. Florida college students are currently required to either pass a civics literacy class or pass a civics exam before they graduate.
The bill now goes for a vote by the full House. If passed, it would take effect in July.