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Florida Board Adopts Transition to Accountability System

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The Florida state board of education has approved a three-year transition strategy that is intended to lead to comprehensive school reform.

Gov. Lawton Chiles and the members of his Cabinet, who make up the board, accepted the recommendations of the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability this month after the panel resolved a dispute that had arisen chiefly between legislators and educators regarding the oversight function.

The commission is charged with overseeing the creation of an outcome-based education system that gives local schools and advisory councils authority to determine how students will meet performance standards.

Included in the transition phase are key performance data for seven goals that schools are expected to achieve, a timeline for the implementation of the school-improvement process, and a utilization scheme of current assessment methods. (See Education Week, Nov. 25, 1992.)

The dispute arose when some panel members, particularly from the education community, urged elimination of the mandated benchmarks of progress during the transition. The members maintained that, because available yardsticks were incapable of measuring new outcomes, they would only serve to stifle progress.

Schools To Define Progress

Under the 1991 law that authorized the accountability program, "we don't have discipline-specific outcomes,'' said Doug Tuthill, the president of the Pinellas County Education Association. "We don't have any way to measure those outcomes now.''

But other members contended that the action would alter the intent of the reform law. Sen. George Kirkpatrick, the new chairman of the Senate education committee, went so far as to offer to resign from the accountability panel out of concern that elimination of the benchmarks would undermine state oversight of the program.

Lawmakers were also concerned about complaints that members of the public, and particularly of minority groups, were being denied access to school advisory councils.

"What we want is an open process where the stakeholders ... will be sitting at the table making decisions about how their children will be educated,'' said Rep. Douglas L. Jamerson, the chairman of the House education committee. "You have school districts out there not adhering to the spirit, and in some cases to the letter, of the law.''

A compromise was reached under which schools will establish their own definitions of progress while an ad hoc committee, chaired by Representative Jamerson, will devise a method to insure that the schools are complying with the law.

Mr. Jamerson said oversight might take the form of independent teams that would visit schools and examine the advisory councils and school-improvement plans.

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