A new form of testing will reinforce the need for teachers to teach the standards, while overcrowding in certain areas could eventually force the school district to consider new schools in the near future.
Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Nancy Graham addressed the media on Thursday on a variety of topics, including a new test that will replace the FCAT, with schools not being automatically graded down because parents opt their children out of the test.
"The DOE tells me there will be no such sanctions," Graham said. "I'm not sure if the sanctions will be in effect this year. We hope the test is ready for the spring."
When asked of teachers will find it hard to learn what to teach, Graham said they are expected to teach the standards, and if they do, they students should pass if the test is based on those standards.
Many teachers and parents have complained about the amount of testing students receive, especially those in the lower grade levels. Graham said testing for them will be reduced, but added tests are a necessary evil for assessment purposes.
"Good assessment is ongoing. Children are checked for progress. I understand the frustration because there's a lot of assessment. But I'm confident the teachers and students are doing the best they can," Graham said. "What parents decide to do is what they decide to do, and for me to, worry about that wouldn't change anything."
As for the amount of testing high schoolers get, Graham said with all the ACE, IB and AP classes students take, along with SATs and other college entrance exams, it's a personal choice they make.
"They come with a boatload of assessments required by the program, and students know that's going to happen," Graham said. "As for end of term exams, the state is looking at adjusting that so you only have to take the state exam."
As far as teacher assessments, Graham said all teachers are on a one-year contract, and if they don't stack up to the expectations, the teacher isn't renewed.
"The way the children perform impacts 50 percent of the assessment. They can be great teachers, but their students test poorly, and they're judged by that, and there's a disconnect," Graham said. "The things our teachers are concerned about is beyond our authority to change."
Regarding class sizes, Graham said the district has committed to meeting class size standards in grades K-2 and do their best everywhere else.
"We have used our own money to fund class sizes according to the law, but we can't do that anymore, so we will use every penny the state provides for class size," Graham said. "We have no intention of loading classes."
With that worry comes the need to build more schools, and with many returned to Southwest Florida following the economic downturn, that should happen sooner than later.
Marc Mora, director of planning, growth and school capacity, said there will be a need for more schools in the east and south zones in the next decade, especially at the high school level.
"We're looking at a need of about seven to 10 new schools in the next eight years," Mora said. "High school is the immediate need, followed by middle school after that."
There are three options for new high schools in East Lee, with two options in the southern areas, Mora said.
Also at the roundtable meeting was Bill Tubb, executive director of financial services, who answered budgetary matters, such as the reduction of $75 million in this year's budget.
Graham said that the capital budget has been a real problem, while operating costs have shown more promise, and with land valuations going up again, there is hope that money will return to that end.
"We built a raise into the budget before we did anything else, so we know what we had left to work with," Graham said. "The reductions came as a tradeoff. If you got a raise, you don't get all the toys they want."
Also discussed were the new "bell times" - and the panic it caused some parents. Graham admitted the district erred in getting the information out too soon.
"We created confusion saying there would be an extra hour because that's what we were told," Graham said. "We tried to inform while still trying to come up with a new plan."
Graham addressed an investigation that Pelican Elementary in Cape Coral was letting students out 15 minutes early, perhaps for years, by saying there's an investigation ongoing and that she was confident students were getting the required amount of class time.