The leaders of two large, national school groups say they want to change the amount of testing in schools. The Council of Great City Schools and the Council of Chief State School Officers want to eliminate tests which aren’t essential — many of them local — and make sure it’s clear why the tests are given and how the results are used. But the groups say they are committed to annual testing.
Last week StateImpact Florida told you how a middle school in Miami has added speech and debate courses this year to improve reading, writing and speaking.
The school’s principal, Bridget McKinney majored in debate and thought the requirements for Florida’s new Common Core-based standards sounded a lot like her college classes. She needed a writing teacher for new speech and debate courses she wanted to create.
But like many Florida schools, Allapattah Middle has plenty of expectations but a limited budget.
She couldn’t hire a new teacher. It wasn’t in the budget. So she turned to what seems like an unusual place — physical education teacher Veldreana Oliver, who has been with the school for 28 years.
“Let’s go! Dale!” Oliver hollers at students looping around Allapattah’s campus. “Dale! Dale! Dale!”
She’s getting her students ready for a timed one-mile run.
But now she’s also getting them ready for the state’s new, annual exam.
Volusia and Flagler County schools report fewer students are buying lunch at school because of new federal healthy food rules. The rules require students to take fruits and vegetables if they are buying lunch — and much of that ends up in the garbage.
Florida students passed Advanced Placement exams at a rate higher than the national average, but but scored below the national average on the SAT college placement exam.
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.
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.”
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.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed federal complaints against school districts in Broward, Hernando, Hillsborough and Volusia counties over the use of all-girls or all-boys classes. The ACLU wants the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the programs.
StateImpact Florida’s Gina Jordan spoke with Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, about the complaints.
Q: Galen, what do the complaints say?
A: Schools shouldn’t be in the business of making crude judgments of children’s educational needs based solely on whether they’re a boy or a girl – that’s the definition of sex discrimination.
They’re using different teaching methods, environments and even curricula.
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.
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.”
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.