As the week begins, the republican-dominated Florida Senate is still characterized as having a “willingness” to go slowly on accountability provisions in Senator John Legg’s SB 616 testing reform bill. They are recognizing that the state’s new FSA tests are off to a rocky start and are anticipating future problems. Orlando republican senator David Simmons has consistently been drawing the narrative out of Florida Department of Education officials during hearings and has gotten his colleagues to use the v-word in public.
Despite what the FDOE is saying, FSA tests should never have beeen considered “valid” on arrival for the simple reason they’d never been field tested by the population whom were to take the tests. Pam Stewart are her spokespersons have been acting irresponsibly by saying otherwise, especially with so may individual kids’ tests being rendered invalid after losing them.
Despite the clumsy transition during last week’s Senate Appropriations hearing from Senator Alan Hays’ hold harmless amendment to one belonging to Simmons, Legg remained gracious and accommodating. Though the some of the teeth of Hays’ language on 3rd grade retention is out, Simmons’ is clear that FSA must be found to be valid before they can be a part of Florida’s multi-level accountability apparatus.
Maybe it’s something Legg was looking for from the start.
There were enough big guns under the control of Jeb Bush in Senate Appropriations that day to squash Hays-Simmons and deliver the “we will not retreat from accountabilty” meme. But they remained silent and quietly allowed Simmons amendment to be adopted, signalling that they may know there are already enough republican votes to pass it in a floor vote.
Hays gave the spirit of his hold-harmless amendment quite a send-off during the hearing and may have been speaking on behalf of many of his colleagues. Leadership tries to avoid drama on the floor if they can and probably doesn’t want to hear from Hays again. Nor from Senator Nancy Detert who remains one of the Senate’s most persuasive floor speakers.
Legg deserved credit for SB 616 even before Hays-Simmons was apparently adopted. His bill includes a sober draw down on the amount of testing and a much-needed reduction in the percentage that test data will matter in a teacher’s evaluation. If he is able to include FSA hold harmless in the bill that reaches Governor Rick Scott’s desk, it will become clear he’s become Tallahassee’s most important figure on education policy.