Maybe Don Gaetz Actually Meant What He Said This Time About Testing

Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell had the right tone in a column last week:

I had a weird interview last week.

Like, really weird.

The topic was the testing mania that has spiraled out of control in Florida — 1,000 new tests in Orange County this year alone, kindergartners taking six end-of-year tests, standardized tests for P.E. and chorus, schools spending as many as 10 weeks on testing prep and more.

The man with whom I was talking described much of what was going on as excessive, unnecessary, even “silly.”

He complained of tests that “don’t appear to be educationally valid” and of a state that required so many tests, it couldn’t even figure how much money or time was being spent on them.

These are many of the same things parents, teachers, education experts and I have complained about for years.

Only this time, the complaints weren’t being directed at the Florida legislators who set much of this madness in motion.

They were coming from a Florida legislator.

And not just any legislator, but former Senate President Don Gaetz, a powerful Republican and former school superintendent who voted for many of the accountability measures

Floridians have been hearing similar Gaetz pronouncements in the run-up to the legislative session. In 2013, he said that we needed to “quit shooting rockets into the air” and that there was “a danger of all this imploding.” Gaetz also said in 2013 that a two-year cooling-off period was needed.  Floridians received further reason to be skeptical of Gaetz pre-season thoughts when he said last year that any expansion of vouchers would require “common assessments.”

So it came as a surprise to many that a Gaetz ally, Sen. John Legg (R-Trinity) filled a bill this week which would actually roll back some of the burdensome test-based accountability measures that the republican legislature has imposed on Floridians. Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeffrey Solochek and Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory have the story:

TALLAHASSEE — An influential lawmaker on Monday proposed what may signal a shift in Florida education policy and at least some relief for students, teachers and parents: Less, not more, testing.

The bill from Senate Education Chairman John Legg addresses growing concerns that Florida schoolchildren face too many state- and district-mandated exams. It would eliminate the requirement that all students take an end-of-course test in every class, with the results going toward teacher evaluations.

The proposal, which seems to have early support from key Senate leaders, would also:

•Limit state- and district-mandated testing to 45 hours, or 5 percent of a student’s time in school. That would not include teacher-driven tests.

•Reduce the amount that student test results count toward teacher evaluations, from 50 percent to 40 percent.

•Allow districts to receive a waiver from state accountability rules if they have specific problems giving the new Florida Standards Assessments.

“This is what we are starting with,” Legg, R-Trinity, said of the proposal, which he crafted with Sens. Don Gaetz and Bill Montford. “We have to start somewhere for a public discussion now.”

Its fair to wonder whether any of this would have happened without the pressure which was being placed on the legislature by the Opt-Out movement, and were further persuaded by Florida Education Commissioner’s Pam Stewarts’ declaration that it was illegal for parents to opt their children out from the state tests made mandatory by legislative intent.

At any rate, Floridians aren’t going to be getting any mea culpa from Florida republican legislators. In their zeal to create curriculum “rigor” and to hold public schools and teachers “accountable” they created an uncontrollable and dysfunctional monster. They were wrong,  and everyone else was right.



About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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