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Statewide Teachers Union Demands A Halt To State Tests, School Grades Next Year

Walter Michot
Miami Herald

Florida’s largest teachers union wants to suspend state exams and evaluations of school and teacher performance as part of a larger plan for how to reopen schools during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Florida Education Association has long been critical of the state’s two-decade-old accountability system, which uses student test scores and other measures to assign letter grades to schools and labels like “effective” or “highly effective” to teachers.

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Union president Fedrick Ingram said tying high stakes to tests is inappropriate now, since educators expect many students to fall behind academically due to unequal access to educational resources after schools closed in mid-March to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Ingram, who is the former president of United Teachers of Dade, said during a virtual press conference Tuesday that students will need extra help to recover, especially those who have struggled under this spring’s shift to online learning because of technology or language barriers.

“The only way that we can catch our students up is time to teach, is time on task … time to isolate the problems, identify those problems and fix whatever regression that our students have had,” Ingram said. “We can’t do that with the pressures of a test. We can’t do that with the pressures of a school grade.”

The state suspended testing and froze school grades for this academic year, after the abrupt and bumpy shift to online learning.

The union’s recommendations were developed by a committee that includes local elected officials, educators and parents from around the state. Miami Beach Commissioner David Richardson is a member.

Ingram criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis’ task force guiding the reopening for its makeup of mostly business leaders rather than educators.

DeSantis, a Republican who has sparred with the union before, established a working group to provide recommendations for reopening not only educational institutions but also manufacturing and wholesale businesses and other areas of the economy. The group of 24 includes eight members with careers or leadership positions in education but only one current classroom teacher.

“Our governor … unfortunately [has] a task force on education that is made up predominantly of business people, people who are not close to the classroom, people who know very little about education,” Ingram said. “That is not how you get your answers.”

A spokesperson for DeSantis’ office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Some of the union’s other recommendations include: Suspending fire drills and active shooter drills so students and school staff members do not have to congregate in groups. Having teachers, rather than students, move among classrooms to limit traffic in hallways. Allowing employees who disclose that they are especially at-risk of severe complications from COVID-19 to continue to work remotely. Establishing triage and isolation areas in school clinics where students who exhibit symptoms can wait to be picked up by parents. Holding arts classes and other electives harmless from likely budget cuts.

Read the full recommendations here:

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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