No change as 53% of 3rd-graders again pass FSA reading test, app tracking, book deal, and more

3rd-grade test results: Fifty-three percent of the state’s 3rd-graders passed this year’s statewide reading test, about the same percentage as last year but down slightly from previous years, according to data released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education. About 11,000 more children took the Florida Standards Assessments test this year than last year, and 53 percent passed by scoring at or above Level 3, which is considered satisfactory and has been a ticket for promotion to 4th grade. Students who scored lower than Level 3 can still move on to 4th grade by presenting other materials that show their readiness. Historically, less than half the 3rd-graders who score at the bottom of the scale, Level 1, are held back. Jacob Oliva, the DOE’s interim education commissioner, said the data is valuable to assess students’ performance and determine where they need help. The FSA will be replaced next year by a system that conducts smaller, periodic tests throughout the school year. Tampa Bay Times.

Remote apps tracked students: Many of the apps used for remote learning during the pandemic tracked U.S. students without their knowledge and sold the data to big tech companies such as Facebook and Google, according to a new report from the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. The tech companies then used the information to secretly track students’ activities and sell ads targeted at those students, the report concluded after researching 164 educational apps and websites used in the United States and 48 other countries. “Put another way, children are surveilled in their virtual classrooms and followed long after they leave, outside of school hours and across the Internet,” wrote Hye Jung Han, the report’s lead researcher. Miami Herald.

Textbook purchases: The state is being urged to investigate whether smaller, poorer school districts are paying more for textbooks than larger, wealthier districts through special incentives offered by publishers. The Small School District Council Consortium, made up of districts in 39 rural counties, has asked Gov. DeSantis and others to investigate whether some districts are receiving special benefits that aren’t available to others, as has been alleged by a whistleblower identified only as “John/Jane Doe.” If the allegations are true, the smaller districts are asking the state for retroactive reimbursements or credits for future purchases. News Service of Florida. WCTV.

Around the state: The Orange County School Board selects three semifinalists for the superintendent’s job, the bill that would update security requirements at the state’s schools has been sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for consideration, Brevard school board members signal their approval for a policy to require petition signatures before the district will begin the process of considering renaming a school, a senior prank food fight at an Alachua County high school got out of hand and 24 students were banned from attending the prom, and a private school in Escambia County apologizes for its “insensitive” rule banning the dreadlocks hairstyle. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A math teacher at Miami Beach Senior High School has been arrested and accused of possession of child pornography. Police said Paul Urquiza, 32, shared pornography with a 16-year-old girl and sent her sexually explicit messages. The arrest report said the relationship was uncovered when the girl mistakenly sent a nude photo to her mother instead of Urquiza. District officials said Urquiza, who has worked in the school system since 2017, will be fired. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Broward: The Texas school shooting has cast a shadow on the sentencing trial for the Parkland school shooter, but will not delay it. “There was a shooting yesterday. And there will be more,” assistant state attorney Carolyn McCann said Wednesday. “The defendant (Nikolas Cruz) is not special. He is not unique. He is not extraordinary. This is a crime that has happened before and it will happen again. And we cannot break every time something terrible happens.” Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled that the defense could ask potential jurors general questions about their feelings on school shootings, but not specifically about the Texas shooting. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press. WFOR. WTVJ. A summary of Day 16 of jury selection. Sun Sentinel.

Orange: Three semifinalists for the school superintendent’s job were chosen from a list of 15 candidates by the school board on Wednesday. They are Maria Vazquez, a deputy superintendent for the Orange district; Peter Licata, a regional superintendent for the neighboring Palm Beach County School District; and Rafaela Espinal, an assistant superintendent for the New York City school system. Seven of the eight school board members chose the same semifinalists. The candidates will be asked to answer six questions on June 2, five days before the board meets again to discuss its options. Board members hope to choose the new superintendent by the end of June. She or he will succeed Barbara Jenkins, who has led the district for 10 years. Orlando Sentinel.

Brevard: School board members signaled their approval of a policy change that would require people who want to change the names of schools to collect signatures from 75 percent of the school’s students or from alumni or community members of the district before the 18-month process of gauging community reaction begins. Board member Matt Susin said the threshold is important because it would be an indication of community support. “I think that that’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “That takes away the politics behind any of these renaming (efforts). Somebody can’t come out and say, ‘we want to do this’ because they have to get both sides of political leaning on board.” The policy is expected to get formal board approval next month. Florida Today.

Sarasota: A former Venice High School girls junior varsity soccer coach has been arrested and accused of having sex with a student. Edward Delehanty, 31, of Venice, is charged with sexual battery by a custodian on a victim under 18. He last coached in the winter of 2021. Charlotte Sun. WTVT. WWSB. WFTX.

Escambia: A straight-A student at a private school in Pensacola was allowed to walk at graduation after the school changed its rule banning his dreadlocks hairstyle. The mother of Jacob Rush III challenged the rule, and Abeka Academy changed it and apologized for being “insensitive.” Blavity.

Leon: A discrimination lawsuit against Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Big Bend that named school board member Alva Striplin has been withdrawn by the plaintiff and dismissed with prejudice. It was brought by an employee who said he was discriminated against in 2020 by Striplin, who at the time was CEO of the organization. She called the allegation false and ridiculous. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: A food fight that got out of hand at the P.K. Yonge Demonstration Research School has resulted in 24 seniors being banned from attending the prom or coming to the campus this week except to take exams. They will be allowed to graduate if there are no more disruptions, they were told by school officials. The food fight was staged as a senior prank, and left the cafeteria tables, windows and walls splattered with food. Gainesville Sun. The Alachua County School District will provide free breakfast and lunch June 1 through July 22 for children up to and including 18 years old at more than 70 locations this summer. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Panama City officials are applying for a $500,000 state restoration grant for the 95-year-old St. Andrews School, which is being used as an alternative school for the district. The grant requires a local match, and the $1 million would be used to repair the school’s roof, sprinkler system, doors and plumbing and electrical systems.. Panama City News Herald.

Citrus: Forest Ridge Elementary School went into lockdown Wednesday when a substitute teacher accidentally pushed the panic-alert button. The error was quickly discovered, and the lockdown order was rescinded within minutes. Citrus County Chronicle.

Walton: A student who left what sheriff’s deputies called a “vague statement” about students coming to school today in a girls bathroom at Walton High School has been sent home for the rest of the year. Police also will step up their presence at the school today.  “This is serious. People tend to air on the side of students when they don’t want punishment is too severe,” said county public information officer Corey Dobridnia. “We need to take every threat as a real threat.” WEAR. WMBB.

Gadsden: Six students were hospitalized Wednesday morning when the school bus they were on ran off the road and overturned. None of the injuries is considered life-threatening, according to the sheriff’s office. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the accident happened when the bus driver reached behind her for a water bottle as the bus approached a curve. The bus moved onto the road shoulder, and overturned when the driver overcorrected. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: University of Central Florida researchers are collaborating with Orlando Health to develop a small optical fiber device that can help detect blood clots in real time. Checking for clots now can take up to 30 minutes. WOFL.

Security tightened in schools: Florida school districts continue to tighten security as the school year wraps up. Sun Sentinel. WFOR. WFLA. Fort Myers News-Press. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Ocala Star-Banner. Daily Commercial. WPLG. WTVJ. WPEC. WKMG. WOFL. WESH. WCJB. WGFL. WJXT. WTLV. WTSP. WINK. WFTX. WMBB. Spectrum News 13. Here are three things Florida has implemented to try to stop school shootings, and three ideas it has not. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety changes: The bill that would update security requirements at the state’s schools has been sent to Gov. DeSantis for consideration. One of the changes would put the state in charge of setting the rules for school emergency drills, including frequency of the drills. It would also set a deadline for training school employees to detect troubled students and extend the life of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission until 2026. News Service of Florida. WTSP.

Education podcasts: Caroline Tevlin, a Florida Virtual School elementary Spanish teacher, talks with Lisa Buie of Step Up For Students about moving from the traditional classroom setting to teaching online, and the tools she uses to bring Spanish culture and language to life for students. reimaginED.

Around the nation: Minutes before attacking a Texas elementary school, Salvador Ramos signaled his intent through online messages, Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday. Nineteen children and two teachers, all from a single classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, were shot and killed Tuesday. Ramos was shot dead by police, and authorities are still trying to determine his motive. Associated Press. Experts offer tips on how to speak to children about the Texas shooting. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF.

Opinions on schools: Here we are again, counting up the bodies of dead kids. Will things change? Do we just have to live with this obscenity in our midst? Can we? Miami Herald. The state’s guidelines on critical race theory are not about protecting students from indoctrination. They are about “protecting” them from information that might awaken something in them: A desire for justice, perhaps, or a dissatisfaction with the status quo. Orlando Sentinel. If Florida politicians and education officials managed to find critical-race-theory boogeymen in elementary school math books — even books where the state’s own reviewers concluded “No CRT noted” — heaven only knows what they’ll find in high school history books. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. A broader and bolder strategy is needed to reimagine America’s teaching profession — to build a sustainable, long-term solution to recruiting the highest qualified professionals into the teaching field. States should create as many diverse pathways into the teaching field as possible, investing in alternative certification programs that attract more diverse pool of talent than traditional preparation programs. Jeb Bush. reimaginED. One way to take political fights out of education is to broaden school choice options. Colleen Hroncich, The Hill. Every educator, from kindergarten through college, knows how important cooperative learning, emotional awareness and a “growth mindset” are to helping students manage their behaviors, relate better to their classmates, engage with their course material and succeed in school. Anne Meisenzahl and Roger Peace, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff