TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Responding to a backlash about the continued use of high-stakes standardized tests, the Florida Legislature on Thursday passed significant changes to the system that was primarily put in place by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
The changes, though not as wide as critics wanted, still represent a departure for Republicans who had fully embraced the reforms championed by Bush during his eight years in office. Bush is touting his reforms in what appears to be a likely presidential campaign.
The bill sent to Gov. Rick Scott would limit the amount of state testing that can be done in public schools, including a firm cap of 45 hours. It would also undo a restriction on school starting dates that had been put in place at the urging of Bush.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli contended the legislation should not be seen as retreat from the A+ plan adopted back in 1999, Bush's first year as governor.
"We have made great strides in Florida based on the A+ plan," said Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. "I think we continue to make great strides, and a lot of that was based off those policies, but we're always open to massaging those policies, and that's what taken place."
Scott has not yet said whether he will sign the bill into law, but the GOP governor in the past has questioned the amount of testing in place.
Bush's A+ plan expanded the use of standardized tests from the third grade to 10th grade. It also created an A-to-F grading system of schools tied to test results. Schools with top grades are rewarded with extra money, and chronically failing schools can be subject to sanctions.
This year Florida switched to a new statewide test based on new standards primarily founded on Common Core. But the rollout of that test was marred by technical glitches.
But even before the test was given this year a backlash was growing.
Sen. Tom Lee, who had been Senate president while Bush was in office, complained last week there was "too much damn testing" going on in the state. He also complained about the influence on education policy by the Foundation for Florida's Future, which was set up by Bush to promote his changes.
Senators insisted on adding clauses to the bill sent to Scott that would delay the release of this year's school grades until an independent review of the new test can be performed. Other sanctions associated with annual testing would also be put on hold while the review is underway.
Despite the public criticism leveled at the group, the executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future still praised the bill now headed to Scott.
"They voted to keep education transparent and provide teachers with the information they need to help students learn, while ensuring testing at every level is done thoughtfully," Patricia Levesque said in a statement.
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