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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hernando schools in no rush to cut local tests, official says

The Pinellas school district cut its local exams after lawmakers paved the way. Pasco schools soon followed suit.

Reductions in testing are on the minds of school district leaders all over Florida. But not all of them have acted.

Hernando County officials issued a statement Tuesday saying that, while they understand the burden people feel, they don't want to make a rash decision.

"District staff need additional time to analyze technical assistance documents provided by the Florida Dept. of Education and to collaborate with affected stakeholders, especially teachers, prior to determining which local assessments, if any, we will eliminate," according to the release by spokesman Eric Williams.

He noted that teachers helped develop a variety of tests to cover all courses, and they value the results to help identify classroom needs. …

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Two Hillsborough schools get new principals

Daniel Opila

Hillsborough County School Board

Daniel Opila

Two Hillsborough County schools will be getting new leadership.

Daniel Opila, an assistant principal at Hammond Elementary, will take over at Chiaramonte Elementary beginning June 22. Opila replaces Marie Valenti, who has run Chiaramonte nearly 25 years. Valenti is retiring after more than 40 years with the school district.

Lynn Roberts, principal of Lockhart Elementary magnet school, will transfer to lead Cleveland Elementary. She replaces Susan Brill, who has been in charge since 2012.

The School Board approved the appointments Tuesday afternoon.

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Pasco School Board stalls on question of unexcused absences

The Pasco School Board came no closer Tuesday to resolving the question of whether students should be able to make up work missed during an unexcused absence, even after close to two hours of discussion.

Board members got hung up on the issue of how to establish a rule that would give schools flexibility to deal with individual student circumstances, while at the same time maintaining consistency across the district.

"When the board crafts policies, all of our policies have consistency and conciseness," vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley told staff during their workshop. "I don’t see that here."

The district staff had recommended a rule in the pending code of conduct that would require each school to set its own guidelines for missed work due to absences, and to present it to students and parents at the start of the academic year. That would allow schools to deal with situations ranging from a student who skips class to a child who can't come to school because of parent decisions, superintendent Kurt Browning said. …

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Testing debate focuses on Florida accountability model

How important is testing to academic improvement? It's a question that the New York Times let Patricia Levesque of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center debate on its pages.

Not surprisingly, given Florida's large role in promoting test-based accountability (and Levesque's part in that effort), the Sunshine State features prominently in the discussion.

"Florida adopted the A-Plus Plan slate of reforms in 1999, including the nation’s most rigorous accountability provisions," Levesque notes at one point. "Ever since, the state has become a national leader in academic progress, with disadvantaged children showing the most gains, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (N.A.E.P.)." …

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Debate over testing's value focuses on Florida

How important is testing to academic improvement? It's a question that the New York Times let Patricia Levesque of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center debate on its pages.

Not surprisingly, given Florida's large role in promoting test-based accountability (and Levesque's part in that effort), the Sunshine State features prominently in the discussion.

"Florida adopted the A-Plus Plan slate of reforms in 1999, including the nation’s most rigorous accountability provisions," Levesque notes at one point. "Ever since, the state has become a national leader in academic progress, with disadvantaged children showing the most gains, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (N.A.E.P.)." …

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Florida Legislature leaves building blocks for future education proposals

The Florida Legislature's abrupt sine die last week left several education-related bills languishing. Perhaps most surprising to die was a measure to scale back class size penalties, an idea that sailed through both chambers and was set for a final Senate vote that never came.

But there were several more that leaders and watchers fully expect to come back the next time lawmakers convene a regular session.

"Many great proposals were unfinished," Senate Education chairman John Legg said in a release.  "I look forward to next Session, where we can build on the discussions and proposals left on the table."

The Florida School Boards Association also predicted the return of many bills, although not necessarily with optimism.

"Some of these bills would have provided welcome improvements to current education policy while others would not be as welcome," FSBA lobbyist Ruth Melton wrote to members. "In either case, it is likely that most, if not all, of these bills will be filed again in a future Session. Therefore, we encourage you to become familiar with the provisions of these bills and how they might be harmful or beneficial in your school district." …

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Florida education news: Background checks, attendance zones, turnarounds and more

BACKGROUND CHECKS: Florida teachers who have committed minor crimes are not automatically disqualified from holding their jobs, WKMG 6 reports.

TESTING: Twenty Marion students have their algebra end-of-course exams invalidated after a proctor leaves calculators out at their testing stations, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • The Lake school district drops its local end-of-course tests, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • Florida lawmakers took some positive steps to alleviate testing demands, and school districts deserve credit for taking advantage, the Bradenton Herald editorializes.

TOP TEACHERS: An Okaloosa middle school teacher is among five finalists for state Teacher of the Year, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

REZONING: The Bay School Board narrowly approves a controversial set of new attendance boundaries to balance enrollments, the Panama City News Herald reports.

CHOICE: The Orange school district plans to build a new performing arts magnet school, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

LEADERSHIP: Manatee School Board members refuse to attend a team-building training session, the Herald-Tribune reports. …

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Sen. John Legg objects to resolution honoring outgoing FEA president Andy Ford

Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, released a letter Monday in which he asked the Senate secretary to officially record his opposition to a resolution honoring outgoing Florida Education Association president Andy Ford and his contributions to public education.

Legg took particular umbrage to the statement that Ford "focused his efforts on high-quality public schools for every student, dignity and justice for all workers, equal opportunities regardless of race or gender, and furthering of education as a means for individuals to achieve the great American dream."

"The bottom line is they're suing a program that is helping kids," Legg said, referring to the FEA's participation in a lawsuit challenging Florida's tax credit scholarship program. "I have nothing against Andy personally."

Legg also rejected an award from the Florida School Boards Association in 2014, citing the FSBA's part in the voucher lawsuit.

He said he would have voted against the Ford resolution, presented by Tampa Democrat Sen. Arthenia Joyner on the last day of session. However, he noted, such resolutions are automatically adopted by publication.

"There is no way to formally object," Legg said. "There's no way to vote no." …

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Using Florida as a key example, John Oliver sums up the fight against testing

This clip on standardized testing from John Oliver's Last Week Tonight would be funny if it weren't what so many parents and educators fight daily. Not surprisingly, Florida appears prominently in the discussion.

Just watch.

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Pasco school district proposes expanded sharing of employee sick leave

Pasco County schools have experienced their share of watching employees struggle through extended illness without enough sick leave to see them through.

The Florida Legislature made it easier to transfer accumulated sick days from one staffer to another in 2012. This year the Pasco district administration is proposing another step to allow its workers to support ailing colleagues.

During negotiations, the district proposed to permit to donate up to 100 days of unused sick time to others who need the assistance, having exhausted their own accumulated leave. It asked the United School Employees of Pasco to accept the idea as a joint contract "opener," so each side would still have three issues to bring to the table.

In the past, the issue of sick time sharing has had support from teachers and other workers. The sides have not reached any formal agreement on this latest idea. They began bargaining for 2015-16 last week.

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Florida education news: Budgets, career academies, credits and more

BUDGETING: Without a state budget, Florida school district leaders find it difficult to prepare their spending plans for the coming fiscal year.

WORK READY: Florida high schools expand career academy options, Pensacola Today reports.

CREDIT RECOVERY: Duval district officials have questions about programs aimed at helping over-age students move toward graduation, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TESTING: Volusia schools join the growing list of districts cutting local end-of-course tests, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Florida Department of Education says the Lee school district would be out of compliance with state law if it does not count state EOC's for 30 percent of a student's course grade, the Palm Beach Post reports.

GET A JOB: The Manatee school district upgrades its online employment application system, the Bradenton Herald reports.

ATTENDANCE BOUNDARIES: The Bay School Board is expected to approve a controversial school rezoning plan, the Panama City News Herald reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Leon County should move to an appointed superintendent, the Tallahassee Democrat editorializes.

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Florida education news: Shakeup, tossed out, safe passage and more

TOP JOBS: A shakeup of Hernando district administrators takes many by surprise.

TESTING: The Monroe School Board considers ending all local end-of-course exams, the Keynoter reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: About 140 children are thrown out of the Villages Charter School, the Daily Commercial reports.

GETTING THERE: Florida lawmakers pass a bill to increase safety of students walking to school, the Stuart News reports.

NOT MUCH DONE: The Florida Legislature passes one of its lowest levels of bills in years, the Naples Daily News reports.

COME TOGETHER: The Manatee School Board looks to work more collaboratively as the district superintendent leaves, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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Florida education news: Illegal adjournment, reading lessons, school nurses and more

UNCONSTITUTIONAL: The Florida Supreme Court finds the state House violated the Constitution in adjourning early, but also that it was too late to force them back.

TESTING: The Brevard school district reduces its local end-of-course exams, Florida Today reports. • Santa Rosa and Escambia schools also cut their local testing, the Pensacola News Journal reports. • Opt-Out Orlando urges parents to have their children not take Orange County's K-2 tests, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

READING LESSONS: Students at Manatee Lakewood Ranch High learn about childhood literacy, then visit a nearby elementary school to see it in action, the Bradenton Herald reports.

LABOR NEWS: Palm Beach teacher union leaders say district officials are not telling the truth about proposed raises, the Palm Beach Post reports.

HEALTH CARE: Broward schools lack enough nurses to care for students, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SAFETY: A St. Johns high school student is arrested for bringing a loaded weapon to campus, the St. Augustine Record reports.

SCHOOL CLOSINGS: The Alachua school district prepares to shut down an alternative center for dropout prevention, the Gainesville Sun reports. …

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Florida education department clarifies rules on student retention, teacher evaluations

The passage of HB 7069 into law changed the rules for evaluating Florida students and teachers. Exactly how has been the subject of much debate.

There's been a healthy back and forth, for instance, over whether the Legislature's action gave school districts more flexibility on retaining third graders who score at the lowest levels of the state reading test.

Here's what we recently wrote, suggesting that schools hold the final decision. The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, for one, took issue, saying we got it wrong.

The Florida Department of Education issued its notes from an April 29 conference call, in which it aimed to explain the current state of affairs to superintendents. Here's what it said: …

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Pasco teacher subject of testing opt-out investigation

The Pasco school district has launched an investigation into a Mitchell High School math teacher who reportedly encouraged students to opt out of their Algebra II end-of-course exam.

The state-mandated exam counts as 30 percent of a student's course grade.

After learning of the teacher's advice to students, the district Employee Relations department began looking into the details. Supervisors interviewed several students, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, and planned to talk to more teens to determine the full extent of the situation.

They have not yet met with the teacher, whose name is not being released.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has spoken out against over-testing, cutting district-mandated EOC's in addition to calling for a pause to the consequences associated with state test results. He has made clear, however, that the district does not support the opt-out movement. As such, a teacher should not be promoting it in classes or to students, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

"It's something that is disruptive and not how we want teachers to represent," Cobbe said. "Their responsibility is to teach and to get kids to follow the law." …

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