How many votes does it take to elect a Florida legislator?

October 3, 2015 by


photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

by: Kristen M. Clark and Mary Ellen Klas

Miami Herald|Times Tallahassee Bureau

October 2, 2015

TALLAHASSEE When Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee for another redistricting special session on Oct. 19, they will talk a lot about how to comply with court guidelines when redrawing state Senate districts. But they’ll say much less about how competitive those district should be.

In 2012, lawmakers redrew the House and Senate maps to adjust for population changes in the decennial census and to comply with new anti-gerrymandering amendments to the state Constitution. And they achieved a stunning result: A third of all legislators were elected in their last election without a single vote. They got here by default because no one ran against them.

Removing the partisan barriers to competitive districts was the goal of the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution, which voters approved by a 63 percent majority in 2010. Although the new rules don’t require that districts be competitive, the amendments prohibit lawmakers from drawing lines that intentionally attempt to benefit incumbents or political parties.

The Florida Supreme Court invalidated the congressional map drawn by the GOP-controlled House and Senate in July, concluding that lawmakers had allowed political operatives to improperly “infiltrate” the process to benefit incumbents or partisans. The Florida Senate concluded the court would have invalidated its map, too, so it volunteered to settle the lawsuit challenging it and hold a special session. The House reluctantly agreed.

Republican leaders will consider the upcoming special session to redraw the Senate map a success if they do little harm to the Republican majority. Democrats will feel successful if the new map pits GOP incumbents against each other and creates two or more districts that give their candidates the advantage. Both sides will remain in limbo if this session dissolves, like the one in August, in disarray.

Why is this important? Legislators wield tremendous power in Florida — from crafting the state’s annual budget and determining how much taxes people pay to deciding whether to implement environmental preservation measures spelled out in Amendment 1.

Drawing the political boundaries for the next decade through redistricting is like creating the rulebook for who calls the shots.

With that as the backdrop, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times examined how many votes each legislator received in their last election, and assessed the intensity of competition and voter support for all 160 of them.

Here are some of the stats:

▪ There were 11.9 million registered voters for the 2014 general election but only 2.8 million cast votes for a senator in the last applicable election, and only 2.2 million voted for a House member.

▪ The Senate has 40 members: 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats, each of whom runs every four years. The House of Representatives has 120 members: 81 Republicans and 39 Democrats, and each holds a two-year term. There are no legislators registered from other parties or without a party affiliation.

▪ Of the 40 Senators, 12 were elected without opposition; of the 120 House members, 38 similarly walked into office without a vote.

▪ While 31 percent of all legislators were elected without a general or primary challenge, another 52 — or 32 percent — were elected with support from less than 30 percent of the voters in their district casting a ballot last cycle.

▪ Fourteen legislators — 9 Republicans, 5 Democrats — were elected after either a close primary or competitive general election battle, where they won the contest with less than 53 percent of the vote on Election Day. They were Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach and Reps. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens; Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora; Larry Lee Jr., D-Port St. Lucie; Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando; Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami; Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill; Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs; Mike Miller, R-Winter Park; Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor; Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach; Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa; Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach; and Erik Fresen, R-Miami.

How intense was voter support?

In the Senate, 19 senators — almost half the chamber — were elected with fewer than 30 percent of their voters’ support, including those who had no votes cast for them because they were unchallenged. And just three senators can say they were elected by a true majority of their district’s voters. Sens. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee; Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale; and Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, were elected with support from more than 50 percent of registered voters in their district.

Eight had nominal opposition from third-party or write-in candidates. They were Gaetz, Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs; Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon; and Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth; Alan Hays, R-Umatilla; Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; and Darren Soto, D-Orlando. Another three senators had no general election competition, but faced a primary challenger.— Sens. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge; John Legg, R-Trinity; and Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

In the House, 83 lawmakers — or 69 percent of the chamber — were voted in with fewer than 30 percent of their district’s voters, including those who had no opponents. Seven representatives, 5.8 percent, had no general election competition but faced a primary challenger — Watson, Sullivan and Reps. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee; Tom Goodson, R-Titusville; Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers; Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach; and Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale.

There were 57 truly competitive House races, in which lawmakers faced a fight from either within their party during the primary or from the opposing party in the general election. Another 21 members, including Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the House redistricting chairman, had nominal opposition from third-party or write-in candidates.

In the House, however, no one drew a true majority of their district’s potential voters. Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, was closest, receiving support from 43 percent of the registered voters in his district.

The reasons for the modest voter support ranges from low voter turnout to lack of competition. The legislature’s eight-year term limits, and the absence of competitive districts as a result of redistricting, reduce the number of opponents willing to take on a sitting legislator.

Low voter turnout doesn’t diminish the legislature’s power, but it does allow it to be concentrated in the hands of a few. Some of the most powerful members of both chambers were elected to office with no votes, often after amassing substantial fundraising money to fend off challengers. Their campaigns focused on raising money, often from powerful interests groups trying to influence the legislative agenda, but it didn’t include asking for ordinary people’s votes — because they didn’t have to.

In the House, those who had no competition include Appropriations Chair and Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes; Rules Committee Chair Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne; Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa; and Democratic Leader-designate Janet Cruz of Tampa.

In the Senate, the list of 12 walk-ins includes Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa; Redistricting Chair Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; and Fiscal Policy Chair Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

On Monday, legislators return to Tallahassee for their annual fall committee hearings to decide which issues and whose agenda will get their attention when the 2016 session begins in January. They will plot strategies for acquiring coveted leadership spots. And they will host fundraisers, to collect contributions from special interests to finance their political committees — with the hopes that they, too, can be elected next time without a vote.

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Another view on Florida’s proposed testing cut scores

October 3, 2015 by


by: Jeffery S. Solochek|Tampa Bay Times

October 2, 2015

When Florida’s superintendents released their recommendations to revise the state education accountability laws, their original proposal relating to testing cut scores was notably absent.

While gone, though, it was far from forgotten.

As preliminary test results became public, Duval County superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who once headed the state accountability system, made clear in several public statements his disdain for the state’s plan to increase proficiency cut scores.

He called it a betrayal of the position that many educators reluctantly accepted in 2011-12, when the state last increased FCAT cut scores. At that time, then-commissioner Gerard Robinson made the case that pushing the scores upward would help prepare students, parents and educators for the inevitable performance declines that would come when Florida moved to tougher Common Core-based tests a few years down the road.

“Now it seems as if everyone has had amnesia as to what the rationale was back then,” Vitti told the Gradebook.

By raising the cut scores again now, he said, there would be no way to tell if students or schools are performing better or worse than before. If the bar remained the same, he contended, the public could see whether children made progress or not, even as the test materials and questions got harder.

The new “random” cut scores, devised after children have tested, would essentially manufacture low performance, Vitti suggested. He called the effort disrespectful to public education — something that hard-working children and teachers don’t deserve.

“Not only are we burning out, but to what end?” he said. “Are we waking up every day in order to not be an F? Is that what this is really all about?”

The State Board of Education is expected to act on cut scores in January. It has called for even higher marks than commissioner Pam Stewart has put forth.

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Blackburn: No faith in school accountability system

October 2, 2015 by


by: Dr. Desmomd Blackburn, Brevard Public Schools superintendent

October 1, 2015|Florida Today

In the two months since I became the new superintendent of Brevard Public Schools, I have spent numerous hours engaging in dialogue with the citizens of this county —hearing of their pride in our accomplishments and learning about the challenges they feel I should address. One item that has resonated from every sector of the county is a resounding dissatisfaction with the testing and accountability system that negatively impacts students, teachers and administrators.

This dissatisfaction has been raised by voices throughout the state. As a result, the Florida Legislature put a halt to using data from the new Florida State Assessment and required the Department of Education to validate the test through a third party. The results, released earlier this month, did not validate the assessment to accurately measure student performance. In fact, the study conducted by Alpine said: “The precise magnitude of the problem is difficult to gauge with 100 percent accuracy, but the evaluation team can reasonably state that the spring 2015 administration of the FSA did not meet the normal rigor and standardization expected with a high-stakes assessment program like the FSA.”

Last week at the Florida Association of District School Superintendent’s meeting, superintendents from across the state met with Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to voice a continued concern with the validity of the FSA. At the conclusion of our meeting, we drafted four key recommendations we believe are necessary to protect our students and staff from unreliable data and the high-stakes ramifications associated with unreliable results. These include:

1. Suspend any application of the results from the spring 2015 administration of the FSA to teachers and schools.

2. Issue an “Incomplete” to all Florida schools for 2014-15 because of flawed data and significant issues with the initial administration of the FSA. When faced with similar challenges, states such as Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have taken similar measures during their baseline year.

3. Reject the concept that Florida’s standards align with levels assessed on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In fact, a Q&A on the NAEP website confirms the lack of alignment.

Q: Does NAEP replace the state tests that my child takes every year?

A: No. Most state tests measure student performance using the state’s own curriculum standards (i.e., what the state considers important for its students to know).

The purpose of each of these assessments are clearly different.

4. Complete a thorough evaluation of the current accountability system, looking at a historical snapshot of the numerous changes that have occurred over the past few years and focus efforts to ensure a year’s growth is considered as a learning gain.

Students and staff are not the only ones who will be negatively impacted by the current accountability program. The continued use of this flawed system will have adverse economic impact on Florida’s communities; negatively impacting our ability to attract new business to the state and Brevard County. We cannot let this continue.

Be certain that we are not advocating for the elimination of accountability. We believe in accountability to ensure that our students receive the best possible education we can provide. Also be assured that I will continue to work alongside my fellow superintendents to engage all stakeholders and the DOE in the development of a viable accountability system that will again be a model for the nation.

I ask you to join me in this important process by letting your representatives and the Florida State School Board know you support the recommendations made by Florida’s 67 superintendents.

Contact information for our legislative delegation and State School Board members can be found on our website at:

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What lies ahead in the 2016 Florida legislative session?

September 29, 2015 by


Legislators are attending committee meetings now to hash out which bills will make it into the next session.  Since this is a presidential election year, the 2016 Florida Legislature convenes on  January 12th. Every year, most of the same politicians are assigned bills designed to move the “education reform” agenda closer to its ultimate goal of universal vouchers and privatization. Leadership knows these ideas are hostile to public education, so they regularly conceal them in other unrelated, bills. Please Sign up to receive Fund Education Now alerts and be ready to take action.

Given the notorious meltdown of Florida’s 2015 session and the multiple failures of the special session, it’s likely that those dead bills will be tweaked and resurrected.  Most of these “policies,” generated by lobbyists at the Foundation for Florida’s Future, are designated “model” legislation endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council and State Policy Institutes. Public education advocates should expect the following:

Testing: Continued justification of the Florida Standards Assessment, high stakes and push-back against altering the flawed Florida A-F accountability system.

Funding: Even though this is an election year, look for a small public education increase of 1%, no more. According to Florida’s chief economist, Amy Baker, Florida has a $3.6 B reserve and $650M non-recurring surplus. Florida’s per pupil funding has stood still for years. It is nowhere near the national funding average. With 50% of student funding coming from required local effort raised by additional taxes levied by the district, 6% from the Federal government and only 44% coming from the state, questions of equity and uniformity arise. The state never properly funded the transition to computer-based learning leaving technology deficits of a massive scale which played out during the FSA disaster. Why isn’t some of the surplus cash being put toward this serious need?

Open Enrollment: Precursor to “voucherization,” a step in that direction. Legislature is not willing to adjust for local needs and differences. Allows students to “open enroll” across district lines to any school who is currently under capacity.  Students who transfer are allowed to stay for the next six years, potentially displacing students who actually live in the district. Disrupts district need to plan and build schools based on anticipated growth. Since 60% of statewide school funding is generated by property taxes, allowing an uncontrolled influx of students into a district may create an unfair burden, impacting all students.

Capital outlay to Charters: Requires districts to share voter-approved millage increases with charter chains in order to pay for and improve buildings the public may never own.  NOTE: This is a controversial idea that comes up almost every session.

Charter Expansion: Education “reform” lobbyists are making the rounds to push a bill that removes all existing caps on charter school replication and allows any out of state for-profit charter school management chain to come to Florida and expand, regardless of need.

Voucher Expansion: Growing the corporate tax credit voucher for private schools is a numbers game. Every year, Step Up for Students claims to have, but never produces, “waiting lists” that range from 10, 000 to 100,000.  Since more students mean more dollars, it’s likely that there will be a continued erosion of the original “means tested” poverty levels used to qualify recipients. This steady “mission creep” has already moved away from poverty to a qualifying salary of $60K for a family of four. Look for a further expansion of this number as well.

Best and Brightest Teacher Bonus: This $44 million dollar idea which was hidden in an unrelated bill and passed during the 2015 session without a proper hearing or knowledge of many lawmakers provides a $10K bonus to teachers based on their teenage SAT scores.  The program favors new hires and Teach for America staff over veteran teachers. New teachers simply have to produce their scores and ranking to get the money. Veterans must produce decades old scores, prove their rank and be deemed highly effective by Florida’s accountability system. Look for lobbyists to push an expansion of the $44 million and a further loosening of the already shaky “guidelines.”

Assault on High School Sports: Destroys Florida High School Athletes Association by turning student athletes into free agents, prevents school districts from having their own policies, allows transfers to other schools without regulations, creates unfair advantages for a few schools, and encourages athlete recruitment by neglecting to provide for transportation. One intentional consequence of this legislation would be to allow the creation of a mega sports charter school system that would monopolize, control and perhaps monetize the state’s best student athletes.

Principal Autonomy Pilot: Expects districts to voluntarily relinquish control of a public school to a principal who can hire teachers, determine budgets and operate under the oversight of a state-run pilot program for three years. This is an effort to peel schools away from districts, allow charter-like flexibility and encourage competition. As of yet, the program is not fully determined and future rules governing it will be set by the Florida Board of Education at a later date, representing multiple unknowns.



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School board: Fla’s effort to force opening of a Delray Beach charter school unconstitutional

September 29, 2015 by


by: Andrew Marra|Palm Beach Post

September 28, 2015

The state government’s effort to force the opening of a charter school in Delray Beach is an unconstitutional attack on the Palm Beach County School Board’s “exclusive power” to regulate local schools, school board attorneys argue in a new court filing.

The school board is fighting in court to uphold its decision last year to reject a charter school’s application on the grounds that it wasn’t “innovative.”

That decision was overruled in April by the Florida Board of Education, which threw it out after the school, South Palm Beach Charter School, appealed.

But the school board argues in a brief to a state appeals court that Florida’s constitution gives the state board no power to categorically overrule its decision.

Florida’s constitution says that county school boards “shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.” But it also says that the state Board of Education “shall have such supervision of the system of free public education as is provided by law.”

Currently, state law allows charter schools whose applications are rejected by a local school board to appeal to the state.

In the brief filed this week, the school board argues that that law “invalidly delegates to the State Board of Education the authority to approve charter applications even though the School Board has the exclusive power to establish, ‘operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.’”

In its brief, the school board argues that it has the authority to reject charter schools that are insufficiently “innovative.” As proof, it points to a state law that says that school boards that oversee a charter school “shall ensure that the charter is innovative and consistent with the state education goals.”

At a school board meeting last year, board members decided to reject the school’s application because it didn’t appear distinctive from nearby district-run schools or other charters run by the same operating company, the national chain Charter Schools USA.

In a statement Monday, School Board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri said the appeals process improperly lets the state overrule independent school boards.

“The state can effectively force local boards to grant charter school applications unilaterally,” he said.

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FL Sups declare no confidence in Accountability system

September 26, 2015 by


Parents, teachers and education advocates across the state are relieved that the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) has joined them in declaring an open distrust of the high-stakes FSA testing scheme and its broken credibility.  FADSS issued a unanimous statement today confirming that they had lost all confidence in the state’s school accountability system.  Here are the key elements from the release:

  • Suspend any application of the results of the 2015 Florida Standards Assessment, recognizing that no one should be graded by this test, especially in the current high stakes environment.
  • If districts must be graded, all should receive an “I,” “based on the availability of limited and flawed data” related to the 2015 FSA and the growing uncertainty about the veracity of the impending 2016 test.
  • Reject the concept that the standards set for the FSA mirror the levels of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAEP). There is no evidence that NEAP is fully aligned to or measures Florida Standards. Further, “NAEP is a representative sample assessment designed to report group results, and cannot provide accurate data on individual students and schools. By law, the assessment is required to make sure that all personally identifiable information about students and schools remains confidential.”
  • Conduct an extensive review of the entire accountability system.

The statement follows September’s Board of Education meeting where former Chair Gary Chartrand devoted his opening remarks to repeatedly sell his recommendation to use NAEP as a comparative tool to set FSA cut scores as high as possible and somehow close the proficiency gap. His logic mirrors that of Jeb’s Foundation which completely ignores the fact that NAEP is an apple and FSA is an orange.  Chartrand emphasized that, “the FSA is the only objective piece of information the state provides to parents.”  When cut scores are arbitrarily set based on politics, it’s hard to understand how anyone could possibly perceive the FSA as “objective.”

BOE Vice Chair Padget recently displayed a serious disconnect when he wrote an op ed advocating another Foundation for Florida’s Future “reform” strategy – raise the FSA cut scores so high that 50% or more of the students are guaranteed to fail.  His piece included the notion that “it’s better to take a cold shower now,” as if using one test to doom a child will somehow result in future “success” and ability to “compete.” In a comedic twist, Jeb’s Foundation echoed Padget’s words by sending an “alert” earnestly urging people to advocate for the highest cut scores possible.

This storm has been brewing since at least 2009 when parents really started waking up and realizing that the Florida Legislature and “education reform” policy is openly hostile to public schools. Sen. Bill Montford,  Executive Director of FADSS, and former Leon County Superintendent, has repeatedly warned his Senate colleagues, Commissioner Stewart and the BOE that the public credibility of the A-F School Accountability scheme is damaged beyond repair.

In a recent Tampa Bay Times article, Jeff Solochek quoted Montford:

Superintendents “have been there. They have taken a lot of criticism from parents, and other professionals, because of their support and participation in it,” he (Montford) said. “Superintendents in Florida have reached a point where they cannot support the accountability system as it is moving forward.”

Public education advocates have fought so very hard to be heard, all the while being treated with gross disrespect by politicians and bureaucrats.  Education “reform” has hurt our children and harmed their schools.

Parents, teachers, students, administrators and school board members share powerful common ground. We are the people who breathe life into public schools. Is everything perfect? Far from it. There’s massive work to do. But when the superintendents of Florida put their justified fear of political retribution aside to do the right thing for the three million public school children who are counting on us, it’s a good day.

Reprinted from The EdVocate Blog

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Delay online testing, consider national tests, Florida school boards say

September 24, 2015 by


by: Leslie Postal|Orlando Sentinel

September 24, 2015

Florida should use paper-and-pencil tests until its public schools have more technology in place and consider national tests in place of much-criticized state ones, the Florida School Boards Association says in its proposed 2016 legislative platform.

The association also said Florida should find new ways to assess students still learning English, including providing them exams in their native languages.

And it reiterated its stance that the state should yet not use the new Florida Standards Assessments or FSA for high-stakes purposes.

The proposed platform is to be voted on in December and, if approved, would be the document school board members use to push for changes during the Florida Legislature’s 2016 session.

The association said national tests such as the ACT, SAT, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate should be considered as possible substitutes for the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA.

The FSA debuted in March, its language arts and math exams replacing most of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or FCAT. The exams are used to grade schools and help evaluate teachers, and students must pass key FSA exams to earn high school diplomas.

Students could use scores on those national exams in place of required passing scores on the FSA — or the state could decide to scrap its tests all together and use the national tests instead, the association said.

That would be adopting the “Seminole solution,” the Seminole County school district’s testing proposal made after widespread problems last spring with the FSA. That is not a solution, however, that the Florida Department of Education says will work given current state law.

The school board association last year asked for a paper-and-pencil test option for FSA and continues that request this year.

Most of the FSA is computer based, although last year most writing tests were given on paper as were reading and math exams for younger children. The state’s goal is to have all state testing online by 2018.

But many school administrators say schools do not have enough computers to efficiently give all exams online. As a result, classes are repeatedly disrupted — and computer labs and media centers hijacked — for weeks of testing.

This year, the state’s school boards say the online push should be delayed “until all districts have sufficient infrastructure and devices in place.”

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Timeout needed on testing in Florida’s public schools

September 24, 2015 by


by: Paula Dockery, Guest Columnist|Tampa Tribune

September 24, 2015

The results are in, and the conclusion is — well, it’s confusing.

The long-awaited validity study of Florida Standard Assessment tests, as requested by the Legislature, has been released. And the conclusions are clear as mud.

Without going into great detail, here is a quick summary of education testing policy in Florida over the past few years.

In 2010, the state adopted the Common Core Standards and started to ease into the new standards and the test to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. By 2014, opposition to Common Core standards reached a fevered pitch. Voters made their opposition to Common Core an election-year issue. Gov. Rick Scott, concerned about the vocal and growing opposition, needed to appear to be addressing its concerns.

Scott’s handpicked education commissioner, the third or fourth since he took office, was instructed to find a solution. Commissioner Pam Stewart suggested a rebranding was in order. Instead of the Common Core standards that denoted the dreaded national standards not specific to Florida, our standards — eerily similar — would be called the Florida Standards, and our assessment tool would be called the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). Stewart and her team made a few adjustments to the Common Core standards and, poof, problem solved.

That seemed to appease enough voters for the time being so they moved on to selecting a vendor to develop and administer the test. They selected American Institutes for Research (AIR) and entered into a six-year $220-million contract.

In August 2014, the Lee County School Board voted 3-2 to become the first school district in the state to opt out of all statewide, standardized tests. The superintendent, Nancy Graham, expressed concern, and within a week the school board rescinded its vote by flipping one board member. Other county school districts considered opting out as well but changed their positions as Lee County backtracked.

Meanwhile, parents continued to complain about the over-testing in public schools. The cumulative effect of legislative education policy changes over the years, combined with testing decisions at the district level, led to too much of class time being used for testing and not enough time for teaching.

The Legislature responded with modest changes, eliminating a test or two in a grade or subject area.

Then came the true test — the test itself. In March, the FSA was administered or, more accurately, the state attempted to administer the FSA online.

There were many difficulties. Students weren’t able to take the test on scheduled dates. They started the test but were kicked offline. Or they took tests, but their answers disappeared. It took two months — March and April — to complete the testing.

Because of the testing fiasco, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement looked into what was considered a cyber-attack while the governor and Legislature ordered an independent study of the validity of the test. Alpine Testing Solutions was selected to perform the review and was awarded a $594,000 contract.

First the good news: After six months, FDLE concluded its investigation into the “denial of service” cyber-attack and assured us that no student information was accessed and the content of the assessment was not compromised. The agency couldn’t, however, identify a suspect or a motive in the alleged hacking.

Within days, the independent validity study also was released. We found out a few interesting things. The Department of Education reviewed two drafts of the “independent” report and received the final report before it was released to the public. The department made suggestions over the phone — not in writing — to the 186-page document. The report concluded that the test data could be used for evaluating teachers and grading schools, but noted that individual students’ scores are “suspect.”

Interestingly the state Senate and House had completely different reactions to the presentation of the Alpine report and the department’s role prior to and after its release. The Senate expressed skepticism and sought information from Andrew Wiley, the Alpine official who performed the study. The House showered Commissioner Stewart with praise and presented her with a thank-you note signed by committee members.

The so-called “validity” study begs more questions than it answers: Shouldn’t we have validated the test before administering it? Why wasn’t the proper load testing performed to test computer systems? Why were drafts of the “independent report” shared with the department prior to its release? Why isn’t there a paper trail between Alpine and the Department of Education? Did the department change anything substantively in the report? How can the test results be validated for use in school grading and teacher evaluation but not for individual testing performance?

State Sen. John Legg, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said it’s time to stop “harping” on problems during state standardized testing. I couldn’t disagree more. Keep harping.

Isn’t it time to learn from our mistakes? Let’s take a timeout from high-stakes testing until the state gets it right.

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Teachers fume over bonus program tied to ACT, SAT scores

September 23, 2015 by

Erik Fresen 2

by: Leslie Postal|Orlando Sentinel

September 23, 2015

Florida teachers have about a week left to apply for a $10,000 bonus program that has exasperated many because eligibility hinges on their ACT or SAT scores, even if those college-admissions exams were taken decades ago.

“It’s absurd to think that anything I did when I was 17 years old should be affecting my pay right now,” said James Brendlinger, a 23-year veteran who teaches at Lake Howell High School in Seminole County.

But Brendlinger qualifies because he did well on the SAT in 1989, so the theater teacher applied ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline.

He could not pass up the chance for such a windfall, he said, but like many teachers, he found the bonus program’s requirements baffling. Others called it insulting and nonsensical, saying teachers should be in line for a bonus if they’ve proved themselves in the classroom, not because they did well their college-entrance exams.

Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program was funded by the Florida Legislature this spring. The one-year, $44 million program aims to give up to 4,402 teachers $10,000 bonuses each, though the rewards will be cut if more teachers qualify.

The Orange County school district said 280 teachers, or about 2 percent of its 13,800 instructors, have applied so far, while in Lake County 27 teachers out of about 2,900 have, and in Osceola County 41 teachers out of 3,600 have. Seminole schools did not have a tally yet.

The program was envisioned as a way to lure smart college students into teaching. But as devised, it will reward those already in the classroom, whether they started teaching this August or 30 years ago.

Teachers are eligible for the bonuses if they scored in the top 20 percent on their college-entrance exams in the year they took them. For teachers who took the exams in 2005, for example, that means a score of at least 25 out of 36 on the ACT or at least 610 verbal and 630 math out of 800 on the SAT.

New teachers face no other requirements, but experienced ones also must have been rated “highly effective.”

Many teachers long out of high school said they spent more than $60 ordering new copies of their old ACT or SAT score reports, often paying for rush service so they’d have reports back in time.

In a state where the average teacher earns just less than $50,000, a $10,000 bonus program cannot be ignored, but its test-score component has ignited fierce criticism.

“It has nothing to do with my teaching ability. It’s just insane,” said Steve Hyde, an English teacher at Winter Park High School in Orange. “I don’t know what the legislators were thinking.”

Hyde, in his 19th year of teaching, does not qualify because his math SAT score was too low.

Some colleagues even prepped to take the ACT earlier this month — the SAT wasn’t offered soon enough for the Oct. 1 deadline — hoping to boost scores. Hyde decided work and family obligations meant he had no time to devote to that task, especially because it’s not clear the ACT scores will be back in time.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said he proposed the program because of an ongoing teacher shortage and because those entering the teaching profession “are rarely among the highest academic achievers in their classes.”

He wanted to help change that, he wrote to the Lake Brantley High School student newspaper, which had emailed him questions about the program. “A $10,000 addition to the starting salary … is a good incentive to make you seriously considering becoming an educator.”

Fresen, chairman of the House education budget committee, was not available for comment, but his office sent the Orlando Sentinel a copy of what he’d sent to the Seminole school’s paper.

The lawmaker called it a “misconception” that the program was about “recognizing and rewarding the ‘best and brightest’ teachers in our classrooms.” It’s about attracting new candidates, he said, but does provide an “overdue reward” to “highly effective educators” with top ACT or SAT scores.

That explanation makes little sense to the National Council on Teacher Quality, which has been supportive of some of the Legislature’s efforts to improve the teaching profession.

“I can’t fathom what the purpose of this is,” said Kate Walsh, the council’s president, except “as a ploy to drive teachers nuts.”

If Florida wanted to lure better-caliber high-school students into teaching, Walsh said, it could follow the city of Houston’s lead. It is working with the University of Houston to offer students in the top 15 percent of high-school classes tuition breaks if they enter the university’s teaching program and then teach for at least four years.

J.P. Royer, who teaches language arts and social studies to fifth-graders, said he felt insulted when he realized a lower-than-needed math SAT score made him ineligible.

A teacher at Altamonte Elementary in Seminole, he has been tapped to speak at national conferences and one year was a finalist for teacher of the year in Seminole, where he’s taught for 18 years.

“Just because you score high doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing in the classroom,” he said.

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September 22, 2015 by

Today is National Voter Registration day.  Make sure you, your friends and family are registered. Don’t be one of the million of Americans with no voice on election day. If you don’t like the way we’re being treated by our elected officials, voting is the most fundamental way to make a difference, especially in state government, where so many policies effect us right in our living rooms.

Take a minute. Click here and find out how to register to vote or make sure your information is current. If you live in a state other than Florida, click here to register. 


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