Kudos to FL Board of Education for staying course on Common Core

February 20, 2014 

Schools Summit

Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner, talks at the Education Accountability Summit, Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 at the St. Petersburg College Collaborative Labs, Clearwater.

SCOTT KEELER — AP

Score one for elevating education standards in Florida's public schools. At the same time, the state's education commissioner is precariously walking a tightrope on an ever-changing school grading system and a new standardized test.

On Tuesday, the Florida Board of Education adopted the state's version of the Common Core State Standards despite overheated opposition -- sending a strong signal that politics will not come into play in the implementation of more robust learning benchmarks, first embraced in 2010.

The board expressed support for state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's plan to alter the school grading formula but did not take a vote. This new tinkering further muddies the waters of the state's school accountability system -- with changes beginning in 2010.

Panic ensued in 2012 when additional alterations punished schools with low grades, and a "safety net" program was put in place to prevent sharp drops in marks.

Now the education commissioner, who inherited the problem-plagued and polarizing grading system with her confirmation in September, wants to eliminate the triggers that dock schools a grade and remove other factors in the formula in order to simplify the system.

This ongoing inconsistency in education benchmarks renders the A-F grading system meaningless since year-to-year comparisons are impossible.

This inconsistency must come to an end -- with an equitable and stable accountability system that yields viable comparisons over the years. We hope Stewart's plan accomplishes that.

This comes as the state prepares to fully implement new standards in the 2014-2015 school year while lacking a new test to measure the tougher learning requirements. That, too, is causing heartburn among stakeholders.

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Florida Education Association, Florida PTA and other groups want the state to suspend school grades while the state transitions to the rigorous new standards and adopts new standardized tests, which is supposed to occur next month.

With the stakes high, the state needs to slow down before rushing head-long into another accountability system, unproven as yet, based on a test still in the works.

Stewart's timeline shows her approving test language in June, and she discounts the importance of field testing to ascertain assessment performance. That does not sound like a recipe for success, and is unfair to students, teachers and schools. Those tests determine teacher and administrative pay, and student promotion and graduation. The state must ensure that this monumental transition is a smooth one, but the current uncertainty brings doubts.

Meanwhile, Manatee County students are set to take the flawed and reviled Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in the coming days and weeks for the last time as the state fully implements Florida Standards.

Manatee teachers and principals indicated that preparation for FCAT starts on day one of classes, as Herald education reporter Erica Earl chronicled in a Sunday article. But without much advance knowledge of the incoming Florida Standards assessment, that will be exceptionally difficult in the 2014-2015 school year. With school grades commanding a great deal of influence on teachers and schools, if the state declines to suspend the grading system, the Legislature should step in and force the commissioner to slow down.

On the other hand, Stewart moved smartly to tweak Common Core with almost a hundred changes, including new calculus benchmarks. But opponents continue to echo falsehoods about Common Core.

The Board of Education acted unanimously in favor of improving the state's economy and competitiveness by raising the bar on standards -- that to better prepare students for college and career.

Like Common Core, under Florida Standards teachers will be charged with nurturing curiosity and collaboration, and developing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Teachers also are required to improve via professional development and other benchmarks.

The board's action sets the stage for a valuable transformation of education in Florida.

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