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Monday, Nov 24, 2014
Commentary

Elia: State needs to move decisively on Common Core


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In recent weeks and months, the Common Core State Standards have generated a great deal of attention nationally and in our state. That’s good because it underscores the importance of education and calls attention to the important work of setting rigorous academic standards.

And on Tuesday state education officials will come to Tampa to hold the first of three public hearings to get input on the Standards. This is a perfect opportunity to have a robust discussion and share information on this important topic.

The state will be well served if the hearings help us achieve a greater understanding of what the Standards are, what they are not, and how they can help us reach our goal of ensuring that students graduate from high school ready for college or a career.

After the hearings, it is important that our state move forward decisively. We must send a clear message that we embrace world-class standards that prepare our students to compete — and succeed — in the workplace of the 21st Century.

The Standards grew out of a belief that the nation’s schools can, and must, do better. They were initiated by a bipartisan group of the nation’s governors and top state education officials. They agreed with business leaders that a high school diploma is no longer enough. Students must graduate fully prepared to succeed in college or to step into a career.

Adoption of the Standards will help ensure that all students benefit from clear and rigorous standards, regardless of their zip code or the state in which they reside. That should be of particular interest in our community, where many students come to us from another state. It will be especially beneficial to military families.

The Standards reflect the knowledge and skills our students should learn in the areas of mathematics and language arts, as well as the literacy skills inherent in social studies, science, and technical subjects. They promote deeper understanding and more student engagement, so our students benefit from spending more time on key lessons, seeing connections and applying the information in different contexts. For many years, academic standards have been “a mile wide and an inch deep.” In classrooms in Hillsborough County, we have been implementing the Standards for two years, and our teachers have embraced this more focused approach.

The Standards embrace the best academic traditions we all grew up with. For instance, the Standards say students should know their multiplication tables. However, the Standards are not curriculum; they do not dictate how teachers should teach the material. It’s up to school districts and individual teachers to provide the magic so that 8 X 8 = 64 really sticks.

Although classic literature is still important, the Standards promote more of a balance between fiction and nonfiction. There is more emphasis on “informational texts” — the sort of nonfiction reading material students will experience in college and in the workplace.

One of the most exciting features of the Standards is that they can provide us with a common tool for measuring progress. We can see how our students compare to students around the nation and the world.

That’s why it’s critically important that Florida adopt an assessment soon. The FCAT has served a valuable purpose, but it doesn’t tell us how our students compare nationally. It’s time to move past FCAT. We need a valid and reliable assessment that provides clear indicators of where we are and what we need to do to get even better.

Gov. Rick Scott and key lawmakers, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, have expressed concerns about the assessment aligned to the Standards. They have concerns about costs and time spent on assessments. I do, too. But at this point, Florida does not have clear plans for an assessment to measure student progress.

We need to get down quickly to the business of embracing world-class standards and adopting a nationally normed test — whether it is PARCC or some other assessment — that will tell us how we’re doing. Accountability demands it. The decisions we make today will affect our students for many years to come. We owe it to our students and teachers to get it right.

MaryEllen Elia is the superintendent of Hillsborough County public schools.

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