Republican lawmakers unveiled sweeping legislation Wednesday aimed at overhauling Florida's problem-riddled school testing regime. Under the measure, the Florida Standards Assessments would be given later in the school year, allowing teachers more time to prepare students for the exams, which have resulted in higher-than-expected failure rates.

  • SB 926/HB 773 would push FSA testing period back to the end of the year
  • Also reviews high school-level FSAs, make sure they are testing students on what they learning
  • Legislative session opens March 7

At a capitol news conference, the sponsors of the testing reform proposal (SB 926/HB 773) broke with the majority party's longstanding tradition of defending Florida's student assessment program by acknowledging that significant changes are needed.

"Somehow, the state of Florida kind of went off the path," said Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami). "We hear it: teachers are frustrated. They feel that they're having to cram for a test or having to teach to a test, and that is not and was never the intention of legislators and those who came before us who implemented these reforms."

The tests were hurriedly designed in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott's refusal to implement a multi-state exam based on the national Common Core standards. Their debut in 2015 was marked by computer glitches that prevented schools across the state from logging on to the cloud-based testing interface, and a flood of dismal scores prompted state education officials to lower the threshold for passing.

The reform legislation has been drafted in line with input from 400 teachers who completed a survey on the FSA and overwhelmingly cited the timing of the exams, in early spring, as a chief complaint. The new proposal would move testing to the final three weeks of the school year.

"Nearly 80 percent said, 'look, it would be helpful if we had this calendar moved back to the end of the year, so that I can ensure as an instructor that I had a year's worth of time to make sure these students were prepared for that test and we really got a true assessment as to what they were learning,'" said Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor).

The measure would also require the Florida Department of Education to conduct a review of high school-level FSAs to ensure they conform to material on the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. When asked if that could mean integrating more components of the Common Core-based test into the FSA series, the sponsors suggested the decision would be up to the department.

"They take all those things into account to make sure that the standards that we have are the best for our students here in the state," Flores said.