Putting Education Reform To The Test

Education Commissioner Outlines Plans For Standards, School Grades, Evaluations And Privacy

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on a listening tour with Gov. Rick Scott.


Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on a listening tour with Gov. Rick Scott.

The Florida Department of Education could suggest about 40 changes to the state’s K-12 standards, including requiring the teaching of cursive writing and the use of decimals when counting money.

But Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the changes were minor and would have little impact on students, teachers and administrators preparing for the final switch to new standards, known as Common Core, when classes start this fall.

Stewart spoke to the Senate Education committee Wednesday, outlining the agency’s plans for adjusting Common Core, choosing a new statewide test, altering the state’s school grading and teacher evaluation rules and protecting student data. Lawmakers had asked her to appear as they made plans for the upcoming legislative session.

“With the total, spread over K-12, of being 40-some changes, I don’t think would have a serious impact on each grade level,” Stewart said.

Florida is one of 45 states which have fully adopted Common Core standards. They outline what students should know at the end of each grade.

But opposition has been building against the standards since last spring. Some worry about the quality, others about the amount of time to be spent on testing or other concerns. The Florida Department of Education held three public meetings in October to gather feedback. The changes come from those suggestions and others gathered online.

Others are concerned about the implementation of the new standards, and whether schools have enough time to prepare for the new test, which many students will take online. The test is expected to be harder, so teachers and schools are worried fewer students hitting state goals will also lower school grades and teacher evaluations.

Lawmakers had asked Stewart to outline the agency’s plan for addressing all of these concerns.

Among the Department of Education recommendations, Stewart said she expected:

  • Florida will hit a reset button on school grades in the 2014-2015 school year as the state begins using a new test. Those results will set a benchmark for future school grading. Schools will not have to implement turnaround plans based on the first year results.
  • The department is working on a revamped school grading formula which will emphasize how well students score on state tests, whether their scores are improving and graduation. In addition, all school grades will be issued at the same time starting in the summer of 2016.
  • State officials will rank the proposals for the state’s next test this week, and Stewart will recommend a choice in March. Stewart said the mutli-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers will not be considered as part of the bidding process, but could not say if she still might recommend the test in March.
  • Students, parents and educators won’t know target scores for Florida next standardized test before taking the exam. Stewart said the Department of Education will review the results before deciding on what’s known as the cut scores which demarcate each achievement level.
  • Florida has no plans to field test its next exam. “The reason you want field testing to occur is really of benefit to the testing company,” Stewart said. “If we select an assessment that has been appropriately vetted…whether or not our students in Florida have practiced on that test is not significant.”
  • The State Board of Education will begin setting scores for teachers to earn “highly effective,” “effective” and other ratings. Currently, those scores are set by school districts causing wide variations in the percentage of teachers earning each evaluation level.
  • The agency is reviewing its student data rules and will require that no student’s individual data can be released without the student or parent’s consent, unless required by federal law or a court order.

Committee chairman John Legg said they would use Stewart’s presentation as a starting point for their debate.

But Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, asked several times why Florida could not slow down the switch to Common Core and new tests. He said he was having trouble explaining what to expect to his constituents.

“There’s some test coming,” he said. “We don’t know what it is. It hasn’t been field tested. But just be comfortable with it.”

“There’s a great deal of empathy,” Stewart replied. “All of the things you mentioned, particularly as it relates to impacting students, is what I take into consideration in every single decision.”


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