Florida lawmakers might be calling HB 773 the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, but parent groups say the bill’s title is totally misleading and isn’t actually doing anything to eliminate standardized testing in the Sunshine State.
State Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, and Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, are all touting the legislation as a way to scale back standardized testing in Florida.
Not so fast, parents say.
“First of all, this [title] is a misnomer,” Beth Overholt of education advocacy group Common Ground told Sunshine State News.
Common Ground is composed of representatives from six education groups like Florida Stop Common Core Coalition and Fund Education Now.
Overholt told SSN the legislation doesn’t actually eliminate tests, but just alters how long students would be taking tests at the end of the school year -- so the title, she said, is totally misleading.
“They’re not fewer and they’re not better tests," she said. "I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
The bill’s sponsors don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment, either.
"Fewer testing is a nickname of the bill,” Sen. Flores told SSN Wednesday.
Flores said the bill’s name wasn’t totally off, though, because it would “eliminate” tests if grading companies couldn’t get results from district-wide assessments back to teachers within a week of administration. But at that point, students would have already taken the test.
Flores explained only the students whose test results were turned around in a week would remain -- something HB 773/SB 926 would require companies to do if the proposal became law.
“This legislation was developed with the input of teachers and parents, who wanted state testing to serve its fundamental purpose of assessing students’ knowledge, not be something that takes the focus away from actual learning,” Flores contended.
The name isn’t the only aspect of HB 773 opponents have taken issue with.
Common Ground says the bill also promotes “unrealistic” Florida Standards Assessment cut scores by tying them beyond grade level proficiency by linking them to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test.
NAEP is often considered one of the more rigorous national tests and education advocates have said its results are generally incomparable to statewide assessments. In 2016, the Florida Board of Education voted 6-1 to accept more lenient cut scores on the FSA, tying a level 4 to proficiency and keeping a 3 as “satisfactory.”
The new provisions of HB 773 are particularly alarming to Common Ground since they could result in more students being held back in school.
“This will result in many more students being retained in 3rd grade as well as high school students not receiving their diplomas, all based on an arbitrary decision,” Common Ground said.
Diaz said the bill was the first step to limit testing in Florida, not an end-all, be-all proposal.
“This is a starting point of our conversation, and we have to go to the process to refine our product,” Rep. Diaz told SSN. “The first thing we must fix is our testing calendar.”
Overholt said she was glad lawmakers were taking an interest in limiting testing, but told SSN there was still lots of work to be done.
“I appreciate [their] efforts but people realize this isn’t doing what it says and it will die [in the legislature,]” she said.
Even other lawmakers have scoffed at the legislation, saying the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill was merely lip service instead of an actual service to the people.
"That bill has great talking points, but if you read it, it does nothing," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who cosponsors SB 964, a rival bill to eliminate testing in the Senate. "It's very, very important that we have legislation that matches our talking points, and that when we go home and we say we did something to effect change, that we actually did that."
Bills like SB 964 have gained traction with groups like Common Ground, who called it a “good bill” since it eliminates end-of-course exams and the 9th grade FSA.
Testing, Overholt and Common Ground argue, has to be limited for the good of Florida’s students.
“We know that these tests are killing our kids,” Overholt said. “It’s testing on steroids… [these bills are] ‘accountabaloney.'"