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Heat Rises in the Senate over School Grades, Standardized Testing Bill

March 31, 2015 - 6:00pm

Florida's senators spent the majority of Wednesday on the chamber floor, duking it out over several issues, including a bill that would limit statewide assessment tests and decrease the amount of time spent for standardized testing in Florida schools.

SB 616, sponsored by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, aims to limit the amount of time school districts spend on standardized testing. The bill would only allow districts to administer tests for 5 percent of total school hours. Parents would have to give written consent if more time is required to complete the test.

The legislation and proposed amendments sparked heated debate between state senators, which became so lengthy the bill is being rolled over to a third reading before it receives a final vote.

Senators offered several amendments to tack onto the bill, with significant debate arising on whether or not schools should be given "A" to "F" letter grades this year.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, who sponsored an amendment to temporarily pause grading for the 2014-2015 school year, said the states education system had failed its students, many of whom are unhappy with the rocky roll-out of the states new Florida Assessment Test.

Today the FSA training site is down, said Bullard, a teacher. Orlando students have chosen to walk out on this particular test because the overwhelming sentiment is that this test is not ready ... The cats out of the bag, folks. The [FSA] test was not ready for prime time.

Bullards amendment failed, but another amendmentpassed, sponsored by Sens. Legg, Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, which would require a validity test to be conducted by a third party before schools are given grades or students are penalized for poor performance.

Gaetz admitted the state should have looked into the test before moving forward, but said there wasnt much that could be done at this point.

The fact is, we're in real time now, he said. We have two choices we can either have an independent evaluation or we cannot have one. I'd rather have one than not have one.

Montford said he would be hard-pressed to support the bill if the grading issue wasnt confronted head-on.

We're in a mess, he explained. Quite frankly, to me, I couldn't support a bill if we didn't have something to address school grades.

Lawmakers also debated and passed an amendment to allow school districts to move up start dates to Aug. 10.

In the end, Sen. President Andy Gardiner determined there simply wasnt enough time to tackle the bill itself and rolled it to a third reading to be held Thursday.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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