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Putting Education Reform To The Test

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Algebra Isn’t Enough: Make Precalculus A Bright Futures Requirement

Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle.

Florida State University

Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle.

While Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships no longer pay the entire tuition bill at the state’s public universities as they once did, they are still a valuable source of financial support for thousands of students.

Recent increases in the minimum scores on SAT and ACT college entrance exams required for Bright Futures eligibility have sparked some discussion and an investigation – now closed – by the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

But aside from the test score requirements, the only high school courses required for Bright Futures eligibility are those required for high school graduation.  In math, that means that only Algebra 1 and Geometry are presently required to earn a Bright Futures scholarship.

The conventional wisdom among education policy-makers and scholars has been that Algebra 2 is the high school math course that makes a student “college-ready,” and by that standard the math course requirement for Bright Futures falls short.

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Evaluation: Education Commissioner Is (Mostly) Meeting Her Goals

The State Board of Education is scheduled to  review commissioner Pam Stewart's performance next week.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The State Board of Education is scheduled to review commissioner Pam Stewart's performance next week.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she is largely meeting goals leading Florida schools.

The State Department of Education posted Stewart’s self-evaluation of her performance Thursday. The State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss Stewart’s evaluation at a meeting next week.

Stewart says she has met the top three goals set out for her by the State Board of Education:

  • Improve rates of learning and students achievement.
  • Improve graduation and completion rates.
  • Complete a positive transition to new K-12 standards and assessments and to improved K-16 accountability systems.

The evaluation cites a list of achievements to prove Stewart’s case: The state’s top-10 ranking for academic efforts in Education Week’s annual report card; rising high school graduation rates; improved performance of Florida’s black and Hispanic students on national exams, particularly compared to white classmates; the number and rate of students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams.

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Five Questions About Florida’s Testing Problems

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

stanfordedtech / Flickr

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

Last week, dozens of Florida school districts had to postpone state testing because of problems with the new Florida Standards Assessments.

Students couldn’t log in to the online writing exam — and some who did were booted out and temporarily lost their answers.

The problems seem to have been resolved Thursday. By Friday, more than half of students scheduled to take the online writing exam had finished.

Here’s five questions about what happened and what’s next.

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Opting Out Of State Tests Isn’t An Option, Education Commissioner Tells Lawmakers

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says state law doesn't allow parents to opt their children out of required testing.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says state law doesn't allow parents to opt their children out of required testing.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says students can not skip state-required tests, and teachers and schools can be punished for refusing to administer required exams.

Stewart’s letter is a response to questions from Senators as they prepare for the upcoming legislative session. Senators wanted to know if students could opt out of state-required exams and how doing so might affect their progress in school.

Stewart says state law allows students to skip required tests for one reason: They have been granted an exemption for medical reasons or disabilities. It’s up to districts to decide when and if students can skip locally-required exams, Stewart wrote.

“State law requires students to participate in the state assessment system,” Stewart wrote, “therefore, there is no opt out clause or process for students to opt out or for parents to opt their children out.”

Any changes to opt out rules would required the legislature to pass a law.

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What Florida’s New Reading Exam Means For Your Third Grader

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

OSDE / Flickr

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

We’ve been answering audience questions about Florida’s new statewide test, the Florida Standards Assessments.

A parent asked us on Facebook: “Please find out for us parents of third graders, who face mandatory retention if they fail the new reading assessment this spring, how the state plans to deal with them. Will they return to 3rd grade after the cut scores are determined in Winter 2015?”

The bottom line: third graders can still be held back next year if they score the equivalent of a 1, out of 5, on the reading test. But those students are still eligible to to advance to fourth grade through one of state’s exemptions, including a portfolio or passing an alternative exam.

Florida students will begin taking the Florida Standards Assessments in early March, with testing running on and off through mid-May. But the State Board of Education isn’t expected to set final targets — known as cut scores — until Winter 2015.

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Your Guide To The Florida Standards Assessments

We’re taking this week to help parents and students understand the new Florida Standards Assessments, which students will take for the first time beginning in March.

The math, reading and writing exam (reading and writing are combined as English language arts) is intended to measure how well students in third through eleventh grades understand Florida’s Common Core-based standards. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade.

We’ve pulled together the most important things to know about the new exam in this presentation. Click on the right or left side of the slide to advance or go back.

Florida Teachers Consider ‘Civil Disobedience’ To Say No To Testing

Miramar High School teacher David Ross says testing has taken more and more time away from teaching. He refused to administer an FCAT make-up exam in protest.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miramar High School teacher David Ross says testing has taken more and more time away from teaching. He refused to administer an FCAT make-up exam in protest.

In September, Alachua County kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles refused to give a state reading test.

She told the parents of her students it was an act of civil disobedience. The Florida Department of Education later suspended the exam for this year.

Florida requires that most students are tested every year. Those results help determine which students graduate, ratings for public schools and teacher pay.

Supporters say Florida schools have improved since pioneering the use of tests. Testing forces schools to pay attention to every student’s progress.

Some teachers say they believe too many tests are bad for students. Around the state, students, parents, teachers, superintendents and school boards are discussing how to voice their opposition to testing.

But is the classroom the right place to raise those questions? Educators disagree about the best way for teachers to speak up.

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Read: School Boards Group Outlines Consequences Of Skipping State Tests

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

Last night, the Lee County school board became the first district to refuse state testing entirely. Other Florida school districts are also considering saying no to state exams.

The Florida School Boards Association is meeting next week and has posted an outline of the consequences for not complying state law.

The first step is an investigation by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, according to the document posted by FSBA. If Stewart determines the district isn’t complying with state law, the State Board of Education can order the district to comply.

If the district refuses, the State Board of Education can ask the Legislature to take action. The state board can also withhold the transfer of state funds (and a big chunk of operations money goes through the state budget), lottery money or grants.

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Read The Federal Plan To Expand Wireless Internet Access At Schools

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a plan to emphasize wireless Internet connections.

Stephen Melkisethian / Flickr

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a plan to emphasize wireless Internet connections.

Tomorrow the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on a plan that would add $2 billion over two years to help schools and libraries purchase high-speed wireless Internet access.

The plan’s full details are not public, but the agency has published a short summary of the proposed changes.

The plan has three broad goals:

  • Expand the amount of grants available to help school purchase and maintain wireless Internet networks.
  • Change eligibility to broaden the number of schools and libraries that can receive grants.
  • Make the program simpler and faster for participating schools and libraries.

A Republican FCC commissioner and two Democratic senators have questioned the proposal this week. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said the plan numbers “don’t add up” and that the changes would mean higher charges on phone bills. U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller,  of West Virginia, and Edwrd Markey,  of Massachusetts, were concerned emphasizing wireless would come at the expense of funding for other, wired broadband Internet connections.

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New Florida Report Tracks State College And University Graduate Earnings

A new Florida report tracks differences in employment and earnings based on the degrees earned by Florida college and university graduates.

401(k) 2013 / Flickr

A new Florida report tracks differences in employment and earnings based on the degrees earned by Florida college and university graduates.

Science degrees pay. And generally, the higher the degree one earns the more they can expect to be paid — even within their field.

That’s two conclusions from a first-of-its-kind economic study of Florida’s college and university graduates. Lawmakers required the annual reports two years ago, part of a push to tie the state’s education system to job needs.

The median earnings of Florida associate in arts graduates was $26,504 in their first year, while the median bachelor’s graduate (not divided by arts and science) earnings was $33,652. Nursing, accounting and teaching graduates earned the highest median pay among bachelor’s graduates. For bachelor degrees earned at Florida colleges, the median pay was highest for nursing, computer and information technology and dental hygienists.

The median associate in science earnings was $45,060, with emergency medical technicians, nursing and physical therapy the most lucrative fields.

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