Manatee County School Board wants to reduce testing, regain local control

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School District has signed on with an action plan created by the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, which is asking the state to address concerns over Florida's assessment and accountability system.

The coalition is made of ten area school districts -- including Manatee -- and represents more than 900,00 students and families and aims to address public education issues affecting districts in the state. The action plan, which consists of three main goals, was created at a meeting earlier this month.

"The reforms are modest and reasonable but represent a significant attempt to reduce testing and bring Florida testing under control," school board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner, who serves as the district liaison to the coalition, wrote in an email to his fellow board members last week.

The goals include: suspending school grades until the Florida Standards Assessments have been validated to ensure that the tests assess students' knowledge and provide valid and reliable measurements for improvement; authorizing school board to identify local tests and how frequently they are given to analyze student growth in non-state tested subjects; and amending state and local test requirements related to teacher evaluations.

The coalition also recommends allowing students to have familiarity with the computers used for online testing so the tests measure the students proficiency with the standards and not their proficiency with keyboarding on the computer.

In a letter sent out Monday, Superintendent Rick Mills and Miner expressed their support for the action plan. The letter mentioned the more than 800 end-of-course exams the district had to create this year to meet state requirements.

"The strain those kinds of new requirements place on students, teachers, administrators and school boards should not be overlooked or underestimated," the letter states.

In the letter, Mills and Miner urged the public to contact their state legislators about the issue. The coalition's goal is to get legislators to endorse and adopt the action plan.

The first round of end-of-course exams, taken earlier this month, prompted anxiety and outcry in the community. The tests, which were created by district officials, used questions from a state "item bank" and teachers weren't allowed to see the exams ahead of time because the exams are tied to their evaluations. Parents complained the tests covered topics not discussed in class. Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.

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