Recess, teacher-bonus amendments added to school testing bill


A bill aimed at scaling back the number of standardized tests administered in Florida passed its final Senate committee on Wednesday after picking up amendments dealing with recess and other education issues.

The growth of the measure (SB 926) quickly drew complaints, even from some supporters, that it was becoming an unwieldy “train,” a term for late-session bills that glom together different proposals in order to ease passage for one or more of the ideas.

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The bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Rules Committee, would still make several changes to the state’s assessment system in the hopes of addressing what critics call over-testing.

It would require school districts to begin testing later in the year, eliminate requirements that students take four end-of-course tests in high school and allow students who do well enough on college-entrance and other advanced national exams to skip some state tests.

But other provisions that have experienced trouble gaining traction on their own are now traveling along with the bill. One of the more significant changes would require schools to give elementary school students 100 minutes of “free-play recess” each week, including at least 20 minutes each day.

A bill requiring recess has passed the Senate but ground to a halt in the House.

“We hope that it will give members of the Legislature, both in the Senate and the House, more reason to vote for this great bill,” Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican sponsoring the legislation, said of the amendment.

Catherine Baer, chairwoman of The Tea Party Network and a supporter of Flores’ recess bill, complained about the amendment — which ran more than 400 lines and was filed after the deadline for the committee meeting.

“We just oppose trains because they lack transparency and are a poor way to legislate public policy,” Baer said.

The bill was also amended Wednesday to include provisions dealing with excused absences for treatment of autism-spectrum disorders, rolling back caps on teacher bonuses and exempting students in varsity sports from the requirement to take a test in physical education.

Some educators have raised concerns about the PE amendment because they say the topics covered on the exam encompass healthy skills that go beyond sports.

One amendment that would have set a new standard for “grade level” on state tests was withdrawn after causing confusion at the meeting.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would have set the bar for grade level at a higher score than is currently used to determine whether, for example, students are allowed to move from the third grade to the fourth grade.

Doing so could cause tens of thousands of additional students to miss the mark, and increase the number of schools that receive poor grades on school report cards, according to opponents — if it were applied to those sections of state law. But staff members told the committee that the language in those sections would likely have to be addressed separately.

Brandes pulled the amendment, but said he would likely bring it back when the bill hits the Senate floor. And, during discussion of the idea, he defended it.

“I don’t think we want to promote children out of third grade who aren’t at grade level,” he said.

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