School Testing Plan Should Be In Place By Late October
Lee County School Board Chairman Thomas Scott said he will ask Superintendent Nancy Graham to present a plan by the end of October detailing how the district will move forward without participating in state standardized tests.
The Lee County board became the first in Florida on Wednesday to opt out of the state’s mandatory student assessment tests, a move with potentially massive ramifications. The board, however, voted without a plan in place for how to assess student performance, and without answers as to what the fallout of the decision will be.
Unless it bends on Florida law, the state could withhold funding, deny graduating high school seniors diplomas and declare the district ineligible for competitive grants, Lee County School Board attorney Keith Martin said. Lee County received about $280 million in state funding in 2013-14, 30 percent of its revenue for the year.
Whether the Florida Board of Education does any of that, however, could become a major tipping point in the balance between state and local control over education.
“It’s up to us now to put our own plan into place so that we in fact do not harm students at all, but allow students a chance to learn what they need,” Scott said.
Graham criticized the decision Wednesday, saying it “will hurt children” in Lee County. At the same time, she acknowledged she serves at the will of the board.
While some have said the board acted too hastily, Scott defended the decision Thursday, calling it a courageous move designed to take back power from the state.
“I think there’s a great deal of fear on the part of senior executives in the district bucking what the state Board of Education wants us to do,” Scott said. “Over a long period of time, they’ve taken away a little of this, a little of that, and they’ve always hung money out there. I don’t want to use the word ‘prostitutes,’ but that’s almost what we’ve been.”
Three board members voted for the move: Scott, Mary Fischer and Don Armstrong. Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan and Jeanne Dozier opposed it.
Whether the decision stands after November’s election could come down to the vote of Pam LaRiviere, who was elected to the board Tuesday.
Fischer won re-election Tuesday, keeping her vote. Armstrong faces a runoff against Steven Teuber, who said in an interview Thursday that he wouldn’t vote to reverse course. LaRiviere’s vote would be needed after she replaces Scott, who didn’t seek re-election.
LaRiviere couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday on whether she would support moving forward with opting out. Following Wednesday’s meeting, she expressed concern about the lack of plan in place, but added, “I believe it will be very good at the end.”
While Teuber said he wouldn’t seek to overturn the vote if elected, he opposed the manner in which the board proceeded Wednesday.
“We went out there without a plan,” Teuber said. “What happens if the state says, ‘Rules are rules’? That’s a pretty big ‘oops,’ and if I was a parent, I would be livid.”
Graham said Wednesday that teachers will continue to teach based on already established standards.
One immediate concern about the decision, however, is the effect it will have on teacher evaluations and pay. Florida law requires at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on student learning gains, which are judged by the state’s standardized tests. Teacher performance pay is based on those evaluations.
Donna Mutzenard, executive director of the Island Coast chapter of the Florida Education Association, which covers Lee County, said many meetings with state officials and lawyers will be needed to sort through the ramifications.
“We’ve always said (state standardized testing) is not good for students. We’ve been saying it for years,” Mutzenard said. “But I have a concern that there’s no plan of what we’re going to do next.”