Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor


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.

Most Florida Students Prefer Computerized Exams To Paper And Pencil

A majority of Florida students say they prefer computerized tests to paper and pencil tests. Florida has used computerized online exams since 2011, and this year is introducing the Florida Standards Assessments.

Though a majority said they’d prefer a computer-based test, nearly 16 percent strongly disagreed with the statement “I would choose the computer-based test,” and another 10 percent disagreed.

About 22 percent said they were “neutral” on the issue, while about 30 percent strongly agreed they’d prefer computer to paper and another 23 percent agreed.

That more than a quarter of students wouldn’t opt for a computer-based test is interesting given that far fewer reported problems taking their exams online. Some students, it seems, prefer paper and pencil even when computer-based testing goes well.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

College-Affiliated Bank Accounts Often Not A Good Deal For Students

Students can pay hundreds of dollars a year in overdraft fees from banks. Often those banks have special partnerships with colleges or universities, but students can likely find as good or better deals on their own.

borman818 / flickr

Students can pay hundreds of dollars a year in overdraft fees from banks. Often those banks have special partnerships with colleges or universities, but students can likely find as good or better deals on their own.

The federal government should ban overdraft fees for financial accounts established through a partnership between banks and colleges and universities, according to a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending.

Those overdraft fees can cost students hundreds of dollars a year — more than books — on accounts often set up to handle financial aid payments.

The review included two schools in Florida with bank partnerships: the University of Central Florida and Miami Dade College. UCF partners with Fairwinds Credit Union, which charges $35 per overdraft while Miami Dade College partners with Higher One. Some Higher One accounts charge a monthly fee but have no overdraft fees, while other accounts charge up to $38 per overdraft.

About 40 percent of young adults said they overdrew their account at least twice per year. The heaviest offenders, 11 percent of young adults surveyed, said they overdrew their account 19 times per year — or $665 in overdraft fees under the terms of a UCF Fairwinds Credit Union account.

Students could avoid those charges if banks declined the debit charges rather than charging overdraft fees, sometimes several in a day before students know their account is overdrawn.

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Despite Problems, Experts Say Computerized Testing Is The Answer For Florida Schools

Despite problems with Florida's new exam, testing experts say the state's emphasis on digital lessons mean schools should use computerized testing.


Despite problems with Florida's new exam, testing experts say the state's emphasis on digital lessons mean schools should use computerized testing.

Testing experts say the problems Florida’s has had with its new statewide exam so far are likely not serious enough for the state to consider throwing out this year’s test scores on the Florida Standards Assessments.

Earlier this month a software problem meant students had trouble logging onto the writing exam for several days, and some students who did sign in to the exam were booted out of the system. Later, hackers tried to shut down the exam by swamping test severs with traffic.

Those glitches have led some lawmakers and parents to ask for a return to paper and pencil exams. But those same testing experts say Florida shouldn’t abandon computer-based tests at the same time classroom lessons are becoming more high tech.

“The startup problems that Florida had do not seem to reach a place where you would have to throw out the results,” said Doug McRae, who retired as an executive with curriculum and testing company McGraw-Hill. “I would recommend that you would really need to have upwards of 10 percent of the population affected by problems before you have to seriously consider not using the results.”

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About That 3rd Grade Reading Requirement

Senate Education Chairman John Legg.

The Florida Senate

Senate Education Chairman John Legg.

Yesterday, a Senate committee appeared to suspend for one year Florida’s requirement that the lowest-performing 3rd graders be held back while the state validates results from its new test.

But Senate Education committee chairman John Legg says it’s not that simple.

What the committee actually did, Legg says, is put the responsibility on school districts whether students stay in 3rd grade or move to 4th grade. So some students with the lowest scores on the state language arts exam could still be retained this year.

“They asked us to trust them,” Legg says of the request from school district leaders.

Florida law requires 3rd grade students earning the lowest score on the state reading test spend another year in 3rd grade to improve their reading. Students can get an exemption from the requirement by submitting a portfolio of their work, through alternative test scores or other methods.

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Senate Committee Wants To Suspend Testing Penalties For Third Graders

Florida law requires 3rd graders with the lowest scores on state tests to be held back. But a Senate committee wants to suspend that penalty this year.

departmentofed / Flickr

Florida law requires 3rd graders with the lowest scores on state tests to be held back. But a Senate committee wants to suspend that penalty this year.

Editor’s note: Check out the update to this story here.

Nearly one in five Florida 3rd graders were at risk of being held back because of low scores on the state reading test last year.

But this year the state might not hold back any 3rd graders. That’s because a Senate committee voted to suspend those penalties this year.

The bill requires an outside group to make sure the state test results are statistically valid.

Sen. David Simmons says he wants to make sure schools and the state can depend on Florida Standards Assessments results before making big decisions using those results.

“Common sense says that we need to ensure that this test that is being administered is, in fact, psychometrically valid,” Simmons says. “This amendment does that.”

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How Finland Wants To Restructure School Lessons

Schools in Finland are scrapping subject-based classes, like math and foreign language, in favor of lesson on topics. The idea is similar to what American education reformer John Dewey proposed a century ago.

Now, Finnish schools are embracing an even more radical approach to teaching. One major initiative is to encourage teaching by topic instead of by subject. According to The Independent, instead of teaching geography and foreign language classes separately, teachers will ask kids to name countries on a map in a foreign language. Instead of separate lessons on history and economics, they’ll talk about the European Union.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

How The Senate And House School Testing Bills Are Different

A Senate committee has approved a bill which would limit state testing. The bill also allows districts which had technology problems during testing to get a waiver from using those results to calculate school or teacher performance.

Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed that the bill aims to put testing into its proper perspective — an “important anticlimax” to the school year — after years of stampeding children into nervous wrecks.

“Maybe one of the things we can do is cool it with the testing frenzy,” Gaetz said.

But he gave no encouragement to those who want to do away with accountability, data and measurement. That’s not going to happen, he said.

“I support high standards and I support higher standards,” Gaetz said. “Once we meet those, I support higher standards after that.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Senate Bill Would Let Parents Have More Control Over Kids’ Education

Parents could enroll their child in any Florida school which isn’t full, according to a school choice bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday. Parents could also pull their child from a class taught by someone working outside of her or her subject field.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican who sponsored the bill, downplayed how many parents were likely to take advantage of the provision.

“I don’t anticipate there’s a mass move by parents to send their children or take their children to schools two counties away, or three counties away,” she said.

Benacquisto also pushed back against the idea that parents would be able to choose their children’s teachers, pointing out that the bill simply allows parents to request, or in some cases demand, that a student be moved out of a certain classroom. The school district could then assign the child to another class.

“This does not allow a parent to cherry-pick a teacher in any way, shape or form,” she said.

Read more at: www.redefinedonline.org

House Leader Says No Pension Changes This Year

It’s a hearty perennial for state lawmakers, but this year it seems pension reform is going nowhere. That should be a relief to teachers, which have fought efforts to eliminate the traditional pension for new hires.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said questions about a new financial analysis of proposed changes to the pension fund have prompted him to call off any legislation this spring on the Florida Retirement System. Instead, Crisafulli said lawmakers will now put an extra emphasis on bills seeking to reform municipal pension funds for police and firefighters this year.

As in the past two years, House leaders had pushed legislation to reduce the size of the Florida pension fund for state workers, school system employees and county workers over the long term. The main emphasis was to encourage more workers to sign up for a 401(k)-type investment plan for their retirement rather than the more costly traditional pension with its guaranteed benefits.

Read more at: www.news-journalonline.com

Scott Unlikely To Get Full Funding For Schools

A draft budget from House lawmakers falls short of the school funding campaign promise Gov. Rick Scott made on the campaign trail. The House plan would allocate $7,129 per student — less than the $7,176 that Scott sought.

Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who chairs the subcommittee, stressed that the House plan would still hit Scott’s goal of the highest per-student funding in state history.

“It wasn’t a slight to the governor,” Fresen said. “We wanted to make sure we hit his historic number.”

The subcommittee did not vote on Fresen’s plan, which will instead be incorporated into the House’s full budget proposal and voted on by the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Don Gaetz, Fresen’s counterpart in the Senate, said the Senate budget proposal will also probably come up short of the governor’s request, largely because of a potential drop in health-care funding from the federal government.

Read more at: miami.cbslocal.com

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