Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor

Reporter

John O'Connor is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. John previously covered politics, the budget and taxes for The (Columbia, S.C) State. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Maryland.

Why A Miami Middle School Is Teaching Debate To Conquer Common Core

Bridget McKinney, principal at Miami’s Allapattah Middle School, says her students struggle to pass the state’s reading and writing tests.

So when McKinney first read the Common Core math and language arts standards used in Florida schools this year, what jumped out was the emphasis on answering questions and making arguments using examples and evidence from what students are reading.

Allapattah Middle School principal Bridget McKinney sits in on one of the speech and debate classes she's required her students to take. McKinney says the Common Core standards emphasis using evidence and making arguments.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Allapattah Middle School principal Bridget McKinney sits in on one of the speech and debate classes she's required her students to take. McKinney says the Common Core standards emphasis using evidence and making arguments.

It took McKinney back to college — she was a speech major. So she decided her sixth, seventh and eighth graders would have to take a speech and debate course each year.

McKinney says the goal is to improve reading and writing skills — and state test scores.

“It’s been our Achilles’ heel at Allapattah, meeting that minimum requirement for literacy,” McKinney says. “I have to be very, very innovative or an out-of-the-box thinker to make this connection for my students.”

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Superintendents Ask For A One-Year Break From School Grading

Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia asked the State Board of Education for a one-year break from school grades and less reliance on test results on behalf of state superintendents. But Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said those changes would be up to the Legislature.

After Monday’s meeting, Stewart said in an interview that most of the issues Elia raised are controlled by the Legislature, not her.

The only area she saw as possibly outside lawmakers’ purview was the school grading formula, which was revamped over the spring. She said minor tweaks could be made.

Stewart noted that the state has changed tests before, most recently from the FCAT to the FCAT 2.0 in 2011-12. This time, she continued, the state provided more resources, materials and training to prepare for the switch than ever before.

“We got through that,” she said. “I think we can, and will, get through these changes.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Miami-Dade Teachers Forced To Wait On School Supply Debit Cards

Last year Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers pushed a proposal to supply teachers with debit cards to purchase classroom supplies. But Miami-Dade teachers were told they couldn’t use the cards until September 26 — six weeks into the school year. The district said they wanted to get teachers hired before handing out the cards.


The state disbursed Miami-Dade’s share of the money — about $6 million — on July 9, education department spokesman Joe Follick said.

On Tuesday, some teachers said they still hadn’t received their debit card in the mail. Others said they had tried using theirs in an office supply store, only to have it declined.

Marte said the district sent multiple emails warning teachers not to use the cards before Sept. 26. She pointed out that teachers would be able to use the cards to help pay for projects and special events later in the school year.

But state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who sponsored the debit card legislation this year, said the program was intended for back-to-school shopping.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

Leading Lawmaker Defends State Testing

Florida’s next House Speaker, Steve Crisafulli, says he has no plans to eliminate Florida’s statewide testing system in a Florida Today op-ed. Crisafulli says the state does not have a testing “obsession” and that people are mistakenly calling the exams “high stakes.”


If we simply refuse these requirements, we would certainly lose billions of dollars for our schools. Especially hard hit would be funding for high- poverty schools and students with disabilities. Money isn’t the only loss to our students. The fact of the matter is that life is a series of tests. If you want a driver’s license, you need to pass a test. When you apply to college, you need to pass a test. If you want to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, electrician, architect, plumber or engineer, you must pass a test.

If we stop measuring our kids’ progress, we’ll return to a failed system in which students are promoted from grade to grade without having the crucial reading, writing and math skills they need to succeed.

Read more at: www.floridatoday.com

Regional School Board Group: “Suspend High-Stakes Testing”

A group of 11 South Florida school districts — enrolling more than 40 percent of the state’s students — want to “suspend high-stakes testing.” They want to rewrite the state’s school rating system by 2017.


Karen Brill, the president of the consortium, said the motion can serve as a model for future change at the state level.

“I think what we showed to them is that we’re really all saying the same things but in different ways. We’re showing the Legislature that they can do it because we’re just as diverse as they are.”

The consortium, which requires a unanimous vote to pass motions, debated the motion’s aggressiveness and future efficacy for more than two hours in West Palm Beach on Friday afternoon.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

How Broward College Is Cutting Student Debt

The debt management seminar taught by Kent Dunston is part of the school's efforts to reduce student loan debt.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The debt management seminar taught by Kent Dunston is part of the school's efforts to reduce student loan debt.

To get a student loan at Broward College, you’ve got to sit through a two-hour financial lesson with Kent Dunston first.

At times, it’s a little like “Scared Straight!” – that 1978 documentary about setting juvenile delinquents on the right path — but for your credit score.

Dunston’s first piece of advice – figure out how much money you’re going to need.

“You’re not going to borrow more than that amount of money,” he told the students. “You’ll be offered more. You don’t need it.”

Dunston is in charge of student loan defaults for Broward College. Those are students who stop paying their loans for nine months or longer.

Colleges have long been concerned about GPAs and SAT scores.

But now they have to be concerned about default rates as well. That’s the percentage of students who stop paying their student loans.

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Palm Beach County Says State Needs To Pay Up For Technology

One of Florida’s largest districts the state needs to pony up if they want districts to meet technology goals set by the state. Palm Beach County schools say the cost of meeting those goals are millions more than the state is paying for, and it will cost $70 million to have a computer for every student.


To that end, the state is doling out $40 million this year — $1.7 million to Palm Beach County – a sum that is woefully short of the need, said Mike Burke, the district’s chief operating officer.

The county’s charter schools – schools that operate with public money, but private management – can get a piece of that allocation if they complete a digital plan. A majority say they intend to write plans, said the district’s director of educational technology, Gary Weidenhamer.

“You’ll see that the need is much greater than the allocation. We did that on purpose,” Weidenhamer said. “We want to send a message to Tallahassee. In order to accomplish a lot of the things they want us to accomplish, additional funding is needed.”

Read more at: www.mypalmbeachpost.com

Florida PTA Wants State To Consider Delaying School Grades

The Florida PTA is asking the state to delay school grades during the transition to new standards and tests.

jjvaca / Flickr

The Florida PTA is asking the state to delay school grades during the transition to new standards and tests.

The Florida PTA is asking state leaders to consider delaying school grading to give students and schools time to adjust to new math and language arts standards and online tests.

This is the first year every grade is using Florida’s Common Core-based standards and students will take the new Florida Standards Assessment early in 2015.

The Florida PTA is asking:

Allow for proper field-testing and test development in areas with similar demographics to Florida’s diverse demographics — The American Institutes For Research, the state’s new test vendor, is building an exam using test questions developed for Utah. Florida educators are concerned those questions won’t be as valid for Florida, which has a higher percentage of black, Hispanic and low-income students than Utah.

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State Universities Want $45 Million To Offset Bright Futures Changes

State university officials are asking for $45 million in needs-based aid to help make up for cuts to Bright Futures.

Abd allah Foteih / Flickr

State university officials are asking for $45 million in needs-based aid to help make up for cuts to Bright Futures.

State university leaders want to add $45 million in needs-based financial aid to help make up for changes to the Bright Futures scholarship program. Those new, higher qualifications will eliminate more than $250 million a year in college aid by 2018.

The State University System Board of Governors will discuss the proposal today. UPDATE: The Board of Governors has delayed a vote on adding $45 million. They want more time to discuss the issue.

“Without these funds, retention and graduation rates are likely to fall as students come to grips with the financial implications of continuing their schooling,” system officials wrote in an analysis of the proposal. Students graduating with less debt and ready to enter the workforce can return three times the money in tax revenue and economic growth than the cost of the aid, they wrote.

The report also notes a strong correlation between income and college entrance exam test scores, such as the ACT and SAT. Bright Futures eligibility is now heavily dependent on SAT and ACT scores. The U.S. Department of Education has reopened an investigation to determine whether Bright Futures’ use of test results is discriminatory.

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Americans Want Higher Standards, More Training For Teachers

University of Central Florida elementary education students discuss how to incorporate books, maps, magazines and other materials into lesson plans.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

University of Central Florida elementary education students discuss how to incorporate books, maps, magazines and other materials into lesson plans in this 2013 photo.

A strong majority of Americans surveyed want teachers to have at least one year’s practice time in the classroom and pass a board certification before teaching, according to a new national poll.

The Phi Delta Kappa professional teacher’s organization and Gallup released a second batch of their annual survey data Tuesday. The poll surveyed 1,001 adults by phone and has a margin of error of 4.6 percent.

“It appears we’ve reached a real turning point in public attitudes,” said William Bushaw, chief executive officer of PDK International. “While we can speculate about all the factors that brought us here, there’s no longer any question about whether the public supports a major overhaul in the preparation and evaluation of teachers.”

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they trust teachers. And seven in ten said they oppose the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

But 43 percent surveyed said teachers should have a year of practice time under a certified teacher before taking over a classroom. Another 30 percent said teachers needed two years of practice time.

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