In Florida Senate, Fewer/Better/Neither testing bill seems to eclipse Montford’s competing reform bill

Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Education Committee meeting featured a testing policy duel between a bill (SB 926) pushed by the Foundation for Excellence in Education that promises fewer and better tests – but actually delivers neither – and a genuine reform effort lead-authored by Democratic Senator Bill Montford (SB 964).

It looks like the Foundation bill won:  SB 926 will be voted on by the Education Committee at its meeting on Monday.  SB 964 is nowhere to be found.

While maintaining all of the present components of the state’s test-based accountability system, the Foundation bill would require all tests (which now begin in February) to be pushed back to the last three weeks of the school year.  The Foundation bill does not address how to physically do this – the present months-long testing season is driven by the requirement that many of the tests be given on the limited number of computers available in the schools.  In response to calls for districts to be allowed to substitute the ACT and SAT college entrance exams for some of the state’s high school tests, the Foundation bill would also authorize the Department of Education to “study” the ACT and SAT to see if they precisely align with the state’s high school standards (Clue:  They don’t).

The Montford bill would make many substantial changes to the state’s accountability system, including terminating end-of-course exams in Geometry and Algebra 2 as well as several other non-STEM subjects, allowing pencil-and-paper versions of all state tests (which actually would allow pushing tests back to the last three weeks of the school year) and setting a lower bar for substituting the ACT and SAT for Florida’s 10th grade English Language Arts exam – “substantially aligned with the applicable state standards”.  The Montford bill also attracted a bipartisan cast of co-sponsors, including former Senate President Tom Lee and Education Committee Vice Chair Debbie Mayfield.

However, the Montford plan never got any traction in the House, where the Foundation proposal was introduced by PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Manny Diaz.

It is still possible that elements of the Montford proposal could be inserted into the Foundation bill via the amendment process.  We will know about that soon.

One more interesting tidbit:  The Senate version of the Foundation bill was introduced by Anitere Flores, who represents the Florida Keys.  The Keys are the home of some of the state’s leading testing reform crusaders.  That may come up during the next election cycle.

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