Scott Plans To Reduce Standardized Testing Statewide

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 10:32 am


A student walks into Gainesville High School Tuesday. There are proposed changes to standardized testing in high schools, including the suspension of 11th grade FSA English and Language Arts.

A student walks into Gainesville High School Tuesday. There are proposed changes to standardized testing in high schools, including the suspension of 11th grade FSA English and Language Arts. Cassidy Whitson / WUFT

In the fight surrounding standardized testing, Gov. Rick Scott may prove to be an ally to activists.

A press release sent out by the governor’s office Feb. 18 outlined Scott’s plan to issue an executive action reducing the number of tests students in Florida are required to take.

“It’s important to measure students’ progress and achievements, but we must not lose sight of our goal to provide every student with the very best education,” Scott said in the release.

The executive action would suspend the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) exam for all 11th grade English students.

Subsequent legislation would eliminate progress-monitoring requirements, make certain exams optional and reassess how to evaluate teachers in public schools, according to Scott and education commissioner Pam Stewart.

Students and education professionals in north central Florida are feeling the pressure of excessive testing. Marion County public schools superintendent George Tomyn said he thinks the state depends too much on standardized testing.

Tomyn said he thinks the executive action and legislation are good choices for the future of education in the state.

“We are essentially punishing students by using one test,” he said. “They were never meant to be an evaluative tool.”

Assessments in Florida, such as the FCAT and later the FSA, were originally used as prescriptive tests, according to Tomyn.

He proposes other methods to track student and teacher progress, such as portfolios of student work.

“We are in favor of accountability,” he said, “but a school system is not like a business. We don’t take a natural resource and turn it into a product. We work with students, but they achieve at different levels.”

Students in Florida high schools are expected to complete classroom tests, end of course exams, state assessments and additional tests for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Cary Emerson and Haley MacCallum are 11th graders at Santa Fe High School in High Springs. The two students said they have felt the strain of required testing.

MacCallum said she thinks the pressure negatively affects teachers.

“I would like to see more teachers actually being able to teach and not have to follow the curriculum so strictly,” she said.

Emerson agreed and said she is concerned that students are overwhelmed.

“Those alternative tests, such as AP exams, are still measuring what the student knows and has learned in his or her classes, so why is there a need for multiple assessments?”

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Feb 26, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By and on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 6:19 pm

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New Bill Would Cut Back On Group Foster Homes

By on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 4:02 pm


New legislation proposed by Florida State Sen. Nancy Detert would reduce the amount of time foster children can stay at group homes. Local child advocates said they want to work with the state legislature to ensure the bill helps children with diverse needs who may still benefit from the group home’s unique care plan.

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Pilot Shortage Brings New Students To Local Aviation Schools

By on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 3:58 pm

An aging population and new regulations in the aviation industry are prompting a commercial pilot shortage. Regulations require commercial pilots to have at least 1500 hours of flight training. To earn those hours, they are remaining at the regional level for longer periods of time, said Brad Broersma, manager of Ocala Aviation.


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Marion County Teacher Speaks Out Against FSA Test

By on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 3:54 pm

A Marion County teacher wrote an open letter to students and parents Sunday telling them why she think students will fail the new Florida Standards Assessments math exam.

Jeanelle Wellhoner, a fifth-grade teacher at College Park Elementary School in Ocala, penned an open letter in the Ocala Star-Banner in which she apologized to students and parents for failing to adequately prepare students for the new standardized test.

The letter is the most recent occurrence of teachers speaking out about the Common Core standards and school testing.

Last September Susan Bowles, an Alachua County teacher, made headlines for refusing to administer a state-mandated test to her students.

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In The News: State Seeks Death Penalty In Tampa Murder, FCC Approves Net Neutrality Rules, Jonchuck Found Mentally Incompetent For Trial, Former House Speaker Sues State

By on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 3:06 pm
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Program Fosters Police-Youth Relationships

By on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm
Police and minority youth sit together as Jeffrey Wesiberg leads a discussion on how to de-escalate conflict and decrease minority youth arrests as part of the Gainesville Police Department's Police-Youth Dialogue Program. The department recently received a new grant that will help expand the program throughout Florida. Photo courtesy of River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding.

Police and youth sit together during a discussion on how to de-escalate conflict and decrease the number of juvenile arrests as part of the Gainesville Police Department’s Police-Youth Dialogue Program. The department recently received a grant that will help expand the program throughout Florida. Photo courtesy of River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding.

When a small group of police officers sits down with local youth at the Gainesville Police Department’s Hall of Heroes, the end goal is understanding through conversation.

As part of the Police-Youth Dialogue Program, which started in the department last year, eight to 12 police officers are selected each month to meet with Gainesville teenagers for a conversation about the relationships between police officers and minors.

The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, a local organization that works to resolve conflict through community building and communication, is responsible for implementing the program. RPCP Executive Director Jeffery Weisberg said the program teaches police about adolescent development and the effects of trauma.

“The goal for the young people is to build a new or stronger relationship with officers, to understand the law and the consequences of their behavior and to gain some new skills of building relationships,” he said.

The program begins with a five-hour seminar where the police and teenagers are separated and asked to describe each other using words from A to Z.

From the police officers’ point of view, “‘C’ might be crazy or ‘D’ might be defiant,” said Gretchen Casey, director of victim services for the Office of the State Attorney in Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit.

After going through the training program, Casey now attends each session to meet with the teens, who come from varied backgrounds and are recommended by local outlets including probation officers and leadership clubs.

Casey said the teens often use positive words to describe police such as polite, kind or decent.

“But you have some kids who have had negative experiences,” she said. “For ‘G,’ I think they put in the word ‘greedy.'”

Once the exercise is complete, the groups come together and share their descriptions. Time is set aside to discuss the experiences behind the words afterward.

Sgt. Audrey Mazzuca of the GPD, who helps run the program, said the biggest problem in the police-teenager relationship is the lack of communication and opportunity to talk about issues.

“We are creating that time when (youths) can talk to an officer one on one, (and) we’re seeing some attitudes being changed,” she said.

Casey said one of the key outcomes of the program is the realization that everybody wants the same thing.

“Police and youth both simply want respect,” she said. “They want to feel like they are treated as human beings.”

The program aims to foster better relationships between police officers and youth while also addressing a specific issue known as RED, or Racial and Ethnic Disparity, Weisberg said.

RED highlights the greater number of black and Hispanic youths than whites who are entering the country’s criminal justice system, he explained.

Out of about 1,200 juvenile offense cases reported in Alachua County in 2014, 79 percent involved juveniles listed as black, Hispanic, biracial or other, according to data collected by the state attorney’s office, Casey said.

In contrast, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010, just 20.3 percent of Alachua County respondents self-identified as black or African American and 8.4 percent self-identified as Hispanic or Latino.

By creating an environment that encourages open conversation, the program hopes to break down stereotypes and de-escalate conflicts, ultimately resulting in fewer arrests, Mazzuca said.

Ryan Smith, executive director of the Spirit of Blue Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing officer safety nationwide, said GPD’s program also acts as a proactive response to police officer safety.

Although Spirit of Blue usually awards grants for police safety equipment, the organization recently selected the GPD Police-Youth Dialogue Program to receive a grant of almost $6,400 from the Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins Community Foundation.

“We’re proposing that officer safety can come through community policing,” Weisberg said. “Kids will be safer and communities will be safer if officers have a higher degree of skill and sensitivity to the issues and needs of youth.”

Part of the grant, which was awarded to the GPD at a ceremony Feb. 24, will fund program development efforts through the River Phoenix Center.

The organization plans to have a standardized curriculum by 2016 that will be shared with other police departments in the region and eventually spread throughout the state and nation.

“We see this as something that’s actually going to impact even outside of the Gainesville area,” Smith said. “It’s a chance for the minority youth to say, ‘Hey, listen: This is what my life looks like. These are my hopes, my dreams (and) my fears.'”

Smith said he believes both groups are more likely to use empathy, compassion and understanding during interactions with each other after completing the program.

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Guard Dog To Service Dog: Study Looks At Doberman Health

By on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 4, 2015 at 8:05 am


Doberman Pinschers were originally trained as guard dogs, but in the future, they may be able to provide support to owners with disabilities.

New research trials at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital will study treatment methods for dilated cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle and often prevents Doberman Pinschers from becoming service dogs. With successful detection and treatment of the disease, the highly perceptive breed could help more people thrive in their everyday lives.


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In The News: Parasite Found In Florida Snails, FSU Students Accused Of Rape, Florida Officers Under Investigation, Massachusetts Man Sells Snow, New Standardized Tests Create Controversy

By and on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 12:03 pm
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Feb. 26, 2015: Morning News in 90

By on February 26th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 11:54 am

Renee Beninate produced this update.

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