This spring, Florida lawmakers achieved fewer and better tests for Florida students, while continuing to measure what matters most: student learning. The state also made improvements to teacher evaluations, increased per-student education funding, added benefits for Florida’s full-time teachers and expanded educational options for students with special needs. Florida has a history of leadership and of continuous improvement to a system that has produced remarkable results for children. This past session was no exception as Florida lawmakers championed and accomplished:
FEWER AND BETTER TESTS
Florida’s House Bill 7069 refined policies while maintaining that Florida will still continue to administer statewide tests in grades 3-10 and that test scores will still be used for calculating school grades. Changes to the law include:
- Transparency in the testing process: Parents will be informed of all tests their children are taking and who requires them – the state or the school districts.
- Diagnostic test results used to evaluate student progress will be returned to teachers and parents within 30 days. Teachers have voiced concerns that they were not receiving results in a timely enough manner to be of benefit in the classroom.
- Total time that students may spend taking state and locally-required tests is capped to five percent of the school year or 45 hours.
- Removal of duplicative end-of-course (EOC) testing at the local level by prohibiting local final assessments in subjects tested with a statewide EOC exam.
- Elimination of the 11th grade English Language Arts assessment (which was new this school year) and the requirement that certain 11th-grade students take the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT), a college placement test given to low-performing students to identify necessary remediation prior to graduation.
- Students will receive results on statewide standardized assessments by the end of the school year.
- School districts will have the flexibility to decide how to best remediate low performing middle and high school students. Previously, the law required school districts to put low performing students into remedial classes. Now, districts will have flexibility to use other options such as summer school and tutoring.
Outside experts will review the validity of the new Florida Standards Assessments results before they are used to make high-stakes decisions. This is on top of existing review from the Florida Department of Education and independent reviewers, which always occurs when there is a change in assessments and standards.
IMPROVED FLORIDA TEACHER EVALUATIONS:
House Bill 7069 also improves teacher evaluation laws. Test scores will count for at least one-third of a teacher’s evaluation rather than half, an improvement ExcelinEd was pleased to see become a reality. The rest of the evaluation will be based on other measures, including principal evaluation and a variety of other measures selected by the district. School districts are allowed to determine how to calculate the student data portion of a teacher’s evaluation for all teachers who teach subject areas that are not assessed by statewide standardized tests.
EXPANDED ELIGIBILITY & TRIPLED FUNDING FOR PERSONAL LEARNING SCHOLARSHIPS
Increased funding for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs) and expanded eligibility will give more students with special needs opportunities for better outcomes on their educational paths. Funding for PLSAs more than triples the first-year investment from $18.4 million to $55 million, and eligibility is expanded to include Autism Spectrum Disorder, muscular dystrophy and three and four year olds who are otherwise eligible. Among other improvements made, lawmakers agreed to provide a three percent administrative fee (not deducted from student scholarships) to support the program’s operational costs and help ensure families have access to the information and administrative assistance they need to participate fully in this innovative program.
STATE-COVERED LIABILITY INSURANCE PROTECTION FOR TEACHERS
Florida’s full-time teachers will no longer have to pay to obtain liability insurance as they work to shape children’s lives. Lawmakers voted for the state to purchase this protection for a relatively low cost per teacher, creating and funding the program as a benefit that allows educators to focus on teaching without having to worry about frivolous claims.
INVESTING IN EDUCATION
The $19.7 billion K-12 education budget includes an additional $207 per student for 2015-2016. It invests in Florida’s “Digital Classrooms” initiative at $60 million, a $20 million increase over the current year. These funds will help ensure our classrooms have the technology they need to provide our students with an education that prepares them for 21st century opportunities.
The education budget allocated only $50 million for Charter School Capital Outlay, which is a significant funding cut to charter schools in the state. Unfortunately, Charter School Capital Outlay is now at just above half of its funding level from two years ago.