BRADENTON -- In response to a testing investigation and growing concern across the state, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is recommending the state reduce the number of standardized tests public school students are required to take.
An investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Education released Wednesday found an excess of testing in Florida public schools. The investigation looked at district-level exams to determine how often students are tested and figure out whether local assessments were already being covered by statewide exams.
"There is, without a doubt, an excess of testing in Florida schools, and I look forward to working with Gov. (Rick) Scott and the Legislature to ensure we strike the appropriate balance between accountability and instruction," Stewart said in a release.
"I look forward to working with the Legislature to implement the commissioner's recommendations and reduce the number of tests this year," Scott said.
Stewart recommended four measures:
Suspend the grade 11 English Language Arts Florida Standards Assessment;
Eliminate the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test as a mandate for students in grade 11, making it optional;
Monitor student progress at the district level; and
Eliminate local final exams where there is also a statewide exam, including algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, U.S. history, biology and civics.
"I'm very pleased," said Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of operations in Manatee County. "This is a great beginning."
Greene and her team will meet Friday to go through the changes and see how they directly affect the district.
"Hopefully by Monday we'll have a better idea of what this means for Manatee County students," she said.
The testing issue came to a head in Manatee County recently, with workshop and forum discussions focusing on overtesting in the schools, which takes away from instruction time and frustrates students, parents, teachers and administrators.
Manatee School Board Chairman Bob Gause said testing was "out of control" at a community engagement forum last Thursday where nearly the entire program was spent discussing state-mandated tests the district is giving students this spring.
This is the first year students take assessments tied to the Florida State Standards, a modification of the controversial Common Core, which is a national set of standards prescribing what students should know at each grade level. The state also requires the district to offer end-of-course exams for every course not covered by a state assessment, and administer national and state field tests.
Board members expressed relief and appreciation Wednesday for state officials reacting so quickly to the testing concerns.
"I think it's a great first step," Gause said.
He said the state should continue to further reduce testing to help increase time spent educating students.
"We're overwhelmed. The teachers are just overwhelmed," said board member Mary Cantrell. "I'm so thankful the state's looking at it."
Since he joined the school board in November, no other issue has caused as much concern, said board member Charlie Kennedy. Everyone agrees testing must be reduced, Kennedy said.
"It's great to see our governor and our legislators respond to their constituents," Kennedy said.
School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said the state is moving in the right direction. Miner is the liaison between the school board and the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, which advocates for member districts. The coalition recently passed an action plan, which called on the state to reduce testing and return local control to districts.
"It's become a model of testing, not of teaching," Miner said. "We need to get back to teaching."
The commissioner also urged districts to:
Give no more than one interim assessment in a grading period;
Don't test students just to evaluate teachers; and
Provide teachers, parents and students with information on how well students are doing on each assessment.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.