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Florida Senate plan would lead to fewer student tests

An effort to scale back standardized testing in Florida schools gained approval from a key Senate committee Monday after a last-minute flurry of amendments aimed at gaining bipartisan support.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously backed the revised measure (SB 926), which would require school districts to begin testing later in the year, eliminate requirements on four end-of-course tests in high school and allow students who do well enough on college-entrance and other advanced exams to skip some state tests.

But the legislation could run into problems in the House, where lawmakers have traditionally been more hesitant about rolling back testing requirements and have moved forward with a less-aggressive approach.

The Senate bill is the result of weeks of discussion that involved the sponsor, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the chamber’s education budget-writing committee; and Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

RELATED: Complete Florida Legislature coverage

The legislation also includes components important to Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who spearheaded an effort to block the bill in committee last week over concerns that it wasn’t far-reaching enough.

“This is a result of not just working together over the last week, but really working together over the last several months with Senator Montford, with Senator Simmons and with others,” Flores told reporters after Monday’s meeting.

It also marks a departure from years of policy aimed at tying testing more closely to education practices. For example, the state would no longer require school districts to base part of teachers’ pay on a formula developed by the Florida Department of Education that measures student learning but critics say is convoluted and unfair.

One of the more significant concessions to critics of the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation is that the Senate version now would repeal the requirement of end-of-course tests in civics, U.S. history, geometry and Algebra II. Students still would have to take at least one math exam in high school, something senators said was a federal requirement.

That would dramatically dial back the number of standardized tests some students would have to take during high school.

“That’s what we had for years, and then we changed it and we put in the end-of-course exams, and so now the state and the citizens are asking us to recalibrate what we did,” Flores said.

Provisions allowing students to use tests like the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement exams and other national assessments were pushed by Lee for years.

“To the extent that we can utilize those tests, there’s a chance that we can help (students) to avoid having to take duplicative tests,” he said Monday.

However, the amendments to the Senate bill — many of which were approved with little discussion in the waning moments of the committee meeting — also created differences with the House version (HB 773).

That legislation, which mirrors Flores’ original bill, would also require the state’s language-arts and math tests to be administered in the last three weeks of a school year, with the exception of the third-grade reading exam.

But the state would only conduct a study of whether college-entrance exams are closely aligned with Florida’s high school standards, with an eye on potentially using them as at least a partial replacement for the state’s graduation tests.

The bill also includes reporting standards for local exams, which supporters say could cause some of those tests to be jettisoned. However, House members haven’t yet adopted language that would do away with end-of-course testing requirements.

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