May 20, 2015

Statewide test won't hold students back in Miami-Dade, Broward

via @cveiga

Empowered by a new state law, education leaders in Miami-Dade and Broward counties announced Tuesday they won’t use the results of the new Florida Standards Assessment to hold students back — one of the most polarizing issues when it comes to how Florida uses tests in high-stakes decisions.

“We will not allow the results of one single test to determine the future of our students,” Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said at a news conference.

It’s the latest impact of a new law calling for an independent fairness review of Florida’s new tests. That study won’t be done until September, well after this school year ends and the next one begins.

Without verified test results available, the state will provide districts with lists of the lowest-performing students. Districts can use that information to make decisions about retention but Miami-Dade and Broward say they won’t. Instead, the districts said they will rely on teacher’s grades, and scores on other tests, to decide which students can go on to fourth grade.

As in previous years, students who are identified for retention will have the chance to be promoted based on their performance on make up tests in summer school.

More here.

May 13, 2015

Pumariega named Florida College System chancellor

MadelineThe Florida College System has a new chancellor: former Miami Dade College administrator Madeline Pumariega.

The Miami native is the first woman and the first person of Hispanic descent to hold the job.

"It's an amazing opportunity to serve," she said Wednesday. "I always say, the colleges are gateways of opportunities. They make things happen across our state."

Pumariega had most recently served as president of the statewide non-profit Take Stock in Children. Prior to that, she spent nearly two decades at Miami Dade College. She was president of the Wolfson Campus from 2011 to 2013, and played a key role in growing the Miami Culinary Institute. She was also involved in the launch of the Idea Center, the college's new entrepreneurship hub.

As chancellor of the state college system, Pumariega will focus on access and affordability.

"We have to continue to maintain the highest quality of programs that we can with the workforce needs, and make sure college is accessible and affordable for everyone in on Florida," she said. "It's about making sure that everyone in Florida that has a desire to make something great with their life has the chance to use those tools, and be ready for that workforce opportunity."

State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart praised Pumariega's experience and passion.

"With Madeline's extensive background in higher education and commitment to helping Florida's students thrive, she is the right choice to ensure we continue in our positive direction," Stewart said in a statement.

Pumariega was born and raised in Hialeah. She is a graduate of Hialeah High, attended Miami Dade College and the University of Central Florida and holds a bachelors from St. Thomas University and a masters degree Florida Atlantic University. She is a doctoral candidate at Barry University in Miami Shores.

The Florida College System is made up of 28 institutions. It serves more than 800,000 students.

May 10, 2015

Computers tied up for testing leaves some Miami-Dade students dawdling

via @cveiga

Business technology teacher Antonio White is supposed to teach middle and high school students how to type on a computer keyboard and use the full suite of Microsoft Office programs.

But on many days, he doesn’t have access to computers. They’ve been usurped for Florida’s standardized testing.

“There’s not a lot of teaching going on this semester. It’s like school is over,” said White, who teaches at José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy.

Ever since the Florida Department of Education mandated that many tests be taken on a computer, school districts have warned that the decree would come with a cost: lots of lost instructional time.

The prediction has come true, according to many teachers, students and parents.

At Coral Gables Senior High, students say they get sent to the auditorium or even multiple lunches while teachers are busy giving tests. At Palmetto Middle School, students spend hours in the same classroom, at times without a lesson. At José Martí, half the students can be missing from any given class because they’re out taking an exam.

More here.

April 30, 2015

Higher-Ed Hustle: For-profit colleges flex political muscle in Tallahassee

via @MrMikeVasquez

For more than a decade, “accountability” has been the education buzzword in Florida.

Schools are assigned A-to-F letter grades, teachers are evaluated using a complicated mathematical formula and third-graders can be held back if they don’t pass a standardized reading test.

The rules are different at for-profit colleges. The Herald found that, despite fraud lawsuits and government investigations around the country, Florida’s Legislature continues to encourage the growth of the industry, which says it provides opportunities to disadvantaged students. Lawmakers have increased funding sources and reduced quality standards and oversight. The attorney general in Florida, meanwhile, has been less aggressive than those in some other states in pursuing schools when they skirt laws involving the hundreds of millions they receive in state and federal money.

In Homestead, a school owner gained enormous influence with the local government, working through the mayor, whose wife was secretly hired by the college owner as a $5,000-a-month consultant. Miami-Dade prosecutors looked into the connection but decided it was no crime.

“In other areas of our education system, we promote accountability,” said State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat. “Why wouldn’t we do the same here?”

Rodríguez filed a bill this session that would rescind state grant funding and suspend the licenses of for-profit colleges where loan defaults exceed 40 percent — or 30 percent in back-to-back years. A legislative staff analysis predicted a “very small number” of schools would be at risk.

The bill struggled to gain traction, particularly in the Florida House, where it didn’t get a single hearing.

“The groups with the largest checkbooks tend to set the agenda,” Rodríguez said. “I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.”

A Herald examination of campaign records since 2008 found that for-profit colleges have contributed more than $1.2 million to state lawmakers and political parties. The Legislature, in turn, passed 15 laws benefiting the industry.

More here.

April 29, 2015

Senate passes special needs bill -- and sends it to the empty Florida House

GaetzA Senate proposal expanding services for children with unique abilities may have virtually no chance of becoming law this year, but the Senate passed the bill anyway and sent it to the empty Florida House of Representatives.

The bill (SB 602) was a top priority for Senate President Andy Gardiner, whose son Andrew has Down Syndrome. It would have expanded the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program, which provides $10,000 scholarships to children with special needs. The money can be used for tutoring services, various types of therapy and college tuition, among other things.

The Senate could have voted on version of the bill amended by the House -- and sent it along to Gov. Rick Scott. But Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, took issue with a provision that would have allowed about $300 to be deducted from each child's award and given to the organization that runs the program as an administrative fee.

Gaetz said the House language did not "meet [Gardiner's] moral standard" -- the Senate version of the bill made it clear that the administrative fee could not come from student scholarships -- and slammed the organization, Step Up for Students.

Continue reading "Senate passes special needs bill -- and sends it to the empty Florida House" »

April 27, 2015

Value Adjustment Board proposal faces final hurdle

FloresThe Florida House passed a sweeping proposal on Monday that could protect the Miami-Dade school system from an anticipated $40 million budget shortfall.

The bill (HB 695) seeks to ameliorate a backlog of property tax appeals in certain parts of the state. Miami-Dade school districts official have long complained that the backlog in Miami-Dade prevents them from getting their property tax money on time.

Members of the Senate say they are committed to helping the state's largest school district.

But whether the bill will make it across the finish line remains to be seen.

Over the course of the legislative session, state representatives from other parts of the state added several provisions to the bill being considered in the House. And some senators have problems with the new language.

"House members from around the state saw this bill as a chance to address other issues with Value Adjustment Boards," said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Republican and chair of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation. "Some of those ideas may be worthy, but they haven't been fully vetted."

Among those ideas: a plan to let state lawmakers appoint five citizen members to their county board.

Flores said she may try to strip some of that language out of the bill when it arrives on the Senate floor Tuesday.

"What my intention was was to pass a priority of the Miami-Dade Delegation," she said.

Any changes, however, would have to go back to the House for final approval. And time is running out. The regular session is scheduled to end Friday.

The lawmaker sponsoring the bill in the House, state Republican Rep. Bryan Avila, said he wasn't sure how it would all play out. But he planned to continue the charge.

"This is a very complex process that clearly needs fixing," the Hialeah Republican said.

April 24, 2015

Miami-Dade schools to eliminate most tests

via @cveiga

Finally, some relief for the weary troops on the front lines of Florida’s testing battle.

Students who have been overwhelmed by glitchy exams now won’t face quite as many of them. On Thursday, the Miami-Dade school district decided to eliminate all but 10 of 300 course finals previously required under state law.

The changes come about a week after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill giving districts more leeway over how many tests students have to take.

The announcement came amid mounting frustration in the classroom over testing, particularly after the new Florida Standards Assessments (FSAs) were once again hobbled by computer glitches earlier in the week.

“I don’t understand the point of these tests,” said Antquanyia Williams, a freshman at Miami Jackson Senior High. “I honestly think we should just come to school to learn for our future. None of this FSA, FCAT stuff.”

The FSAs won’t go away under the new law, which was signed April 14. Nor will the statewide end-of-course exams in subjects like algebra and biology.

But many district-developed finals for courses will be eliminated. Miami-Dade will now only give 10 of them and only to a random selection of students as a field test. Broward won’t give any, other than those still required by the state for things like student graduation requirements or school letter grades.

More here.

April 23, 2015

Florida House beefs up school choice bill

It's that point in the session when lawmakers start combining all sorts of proposals.

We call them trains.

A new education train emerged Thursday in the Florida House.

The underlying bill (HB 1145) sought to let children enroll in any public school in the state with space. (Most school children are currently limited to schools in the county where they reside.) But House Choice and Innovation in Education Subcommittee Chairman Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Miami, filed a 26-page amendment adding language about charter schools.

The bill now creates the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation, something that already passed out of the House as part of HB 7037. It also clarifies that a charter school receiving back-to-back F grades must be automatically closed, and allows new schools to delay their opening if they have trouble finding the right facility.

Notably, the Diaz amendment did not include a provision requiring schools districts to share their construction and maintenance money with charter schools. State representatives included that language in HB 7037, but with the state budget in flux, any measures requiring funding are on shaky grounds.

Diaz proposed a second amendment containing the content of two other bills: a proposal allowing certain principals have more autonomy over staffing and budget decisions, and a proposal encouraging school systems to adopt mandatory school uniform policies.

"This is purely voluntary by the school districts," House K-12 Education Committee Chairwoman Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, pointed out.

The amendment also addresses education for hospitalized and homebound students.

There's a similar train moving through the Senate (SB 1552). It is awaiting a hearing on the Senate floor.

April 21, 2015

Florida lawmakers rip testing vendor after second round of glitches

Schoolchildren who sat for state exams Tuesday experienced few of the technical troubles that brought testing to a standstill one day earlier.

Still, lawmakers in Tallahassee seized the opportunity to publicly blast the state’s testing vendor for its second high-profile blunder in two months.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, went as far as to say Florida should end its contract with American Institutes for Research.

"In light of the bill that the governor signed last week that will stop the utilization of that statewide assessment until it is validated — and we all know it won’t be valid — I think we as responsible agents of the taxpayer dollar need to stop this $225 million contract dead in its tracks," Hays said.

More here.

April 20, 2015

Testing troubles persist in Florida schools

Standardized testing in Florida has come to a halt. Again.

The state Department of Education told school districts early Monday that the testing company's servers were down. The technical troubles affect students in grades 5 through 8 who were scheduled to take the new computer-based Florida Standards Assessments.

Just last month, similar problems plagued the rollout of the state's new computer-based writing tests. State education officials said cyber attacks were also to blame.

State lawmakers, who have been mindful of the issue throughout the legislative session, passed a bill this month suspending school grades until the new tests are deemed valid. It was signed into law last week. But many parents and teachers have said that more dramatic action needed to be taken. They are likely to renew those calls in light of Monday's testing woes. 

Stay tuned.