The 2011 Florida Legislative Session convened this week in Tallahassee, with debate over education reform taking center stage.

Senator Sachs with Robert Dow, President, PBC CTA, and PBC teachers

As promised, Senator Sachs has filed a proactive bill that would eliminate the use of the FCAT as the sole means of high-stakes student evaluation.  The bill (HB1341) would institute a broader, more representative method of evaluating student progress, using the sum of a student’s work over the course of a year.  The bill would also expand the subject areas evaluated beyond the narrow focus of math and reading, to include foreign language, science, civics, etc. Representatives from the FL Education Assoc have praised the bill for its vision with regard to accountability.

“Every child is unique.  Under the current system, teachers are forced to teach to a high-stakes test, ignoring each child’s individual strengths and needs.  We must return to teaching the whole student,” said Senator Sachs.  “This bill would expand the range of subjects on which students are evaluated and increase flexibility in the system.   This would allow us to focus on the success of each child and better prepare our students to compete in a global economy.”

In other news, Senate Bill 736, also known as the “Teacher Merit Pay Bill”, passed in the Senate this week.   The bill ties teacher pay directly to student performance on standardized tests such as the FCAT.  Under this law, 50% of a teacher’s salary would depend on these test scores.  In addition, the bill places all new teachers on year to year contracts, meaning that even effective teachers can be fired without cause or due process.  If passed, Senator Sachs’ education bill would help return the power of making the best decisions for students to local teachers.