Today's news -- September 24, 2013



Scott order: Back off Common Core student testing system

Florida retreated Monday from a new multi-state testing system that was to replace FCAT, a move that could appease conservatives opposed to Common Core academic standards on which the new tests were to be based. In an executive order, Gov. Rick Scott directed state educators to end Florida's role as the "fiscal agent," or money manager, for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Florida has been a leader in the PARCC group and had planned to replace the math, reading and writing sections of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test -- currently given to nearly 2 million students -- with new multi-state exams. The PARCC exams are designed to test student mastery of Common Core standards, which are benchmarks for what they should learn in language arts and math classes. Florida is one of 45 states that has adopted the new standards, and its public schools are now phasing them in. Scott's action Monday stopped short of cutting off PARCC as a testing option completely. But given opposition to PARCC from leaders in the Florida Legislature, that would seem the likely result. In issuing his executive order and sending related letters to state and federal education leaders, Scott waded into the controversy surrounding Common Core and its affiliated tests, seeming to side, at least partially, with Tea Party activists who have complained the standards represent "federal intrusion" in local schools. The standards, however, were devised by state leaders, not the federal government -- with encouragement and support from the Obama administration. Common Core advocates say the standards will be better and tougher than Florida's current ones, and will require students to learn topics with more depth and better prepare them for college and decent-paying jobs after high school. They have been championed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education foundations. Once the new standards are fully in place in the 2014-15 school year, the state will need a new batch of tests to judge student mastery. In his letter to Gary Chartrand, chairman of the State Board of Education, Scott said he wanted Florida to pick a standardized test that "meets the needs of Florida students, parents and teachers, not the needs of the federal government or other states." In the multiple documents his office released, Scott also said he was seeking to end "overreach by the federal government." PARCC exams were touted as the next generation of standardized tests, ones that would be given on computer, require lots of writing and show-your work math problems. They were developed with the help of a $186-million federal grant. But many feared they would take longer to administer, eating up more school time with testing, and be too costly. Florida's Senate president and speaker of the House already had urged state educators to drop PARCC as a testing option. K.T. Caldwell, president of the Seminole Education Association, said "the actual Common Core is not bothering the teachers," despite some hiccups in transitioning to the new standards. But the union leader added, "The time and money that goes into the PARCC is really unconscionable." (Debra Wilhelm quoted) (Debra Wilhelm quoted)


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