Florida Board of Education Weighs Changes to Common Core

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended proposed changes to the Common Core on Tuesday, saying they will set Florida apart and strengthen the state's academic standards.

The State Board of Education held a rare meeting in South Florida, coming to Miami Lakes Education Center to bestow Miami-Dade’s Alberto Carvalho with the award for Superintendent of the Year.

“Highest performing urban district in America with a graduation rate higher than the state average, higher than many counties that have less diversity and fewer kids in poverty,” said Carvalho, boasting about his district’s performance, which he says should be credited to the teachers in the classroom.

There’s no question Miami-Dade schools have made impressive academic gains, but that doesn’t mean the state board agrees with Carvalho on everything, especially his call for the temporary elimination of the school grading system until new assessment tests are in place.

“So much has changed as far as accountability that I am advocating suspending letter grades for schools for two to three years, because during a transition time, what is the value of an “A” versus a “B” or “C”?” asks Carvalho. “It’s become a broken record, everybody recognizes the accountability system is broken.”

But Education Commissioner Pam Stewart disagreed, saying during the meeting that school grades would continue to be given during the transition from fcat testing to whatever the new assessment will be, which has not yet been determined.

“I think that we, it’s my responsibility to be focused on the students in Florida and the school grading system will in fact motivate adults to meet the needs of students so to suspend that would not be best for our students in Florida,” Stewart said.

Commissioner Stewart is recommending about 100 changes to the controversial common corcurriculum, calling them now the Florida standards. Critics say that name change is all about politics. Some conservative supporters of Gov. Rick Scott say common core amounts to a federal takeover of Florida’s schools. The governor is under some pressure to appease those critics, who are a vital part of his political base.

“I think the takeaway is that we started with a great base of English, language arts and math standards that the board adopted in 2010 and with our efforts as we’ve always done we’re gonna make them even better,” said Stewart about the changes to common core.

“The way the Florida standards are being now described or defined is really just sort of putting a fresh coat of paint over common core standards,” said Carvalho, who is a strong supporter of common core, saying it will “significantly elevate the quality of what students learn.”

Most states have adopted the common core curriculum, making it possible to compare student achievement between states on a level playing field. But Stewart says the common core standards don’t have to be etched in stone.

“I don’t think that there was ever the intention that they remain static, I think we want to look at what we do in florida to provide our students with the best education possible,” Stewart said.

For example, cursive writing is included in the new Florida standards, and there’s more emphasis on teaching financial literacy.

“Whatever the standards are in the end, whatever the assessment that the state finally embraces, should be one that’s easily understood and leads to a fair comparison with cities across the USA and right now we can’t do that,” Carvalho emphasized.

Stewart says the board will likely approve the tweaks to common core in its next meeting, and she says by March, a new assessment to replace the FCAT will be chosen.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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