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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Politics intrudes on education standards

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Comparing student achievement among the states is one of the bedrock principles of the Common Core education standards adopted by dozens of states trying to improve academic performance.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to see the state adopt a new test that tosses that principle aside. Disappointing, but not surprising to anyone who has watched Gov. Rick Scott’s effort to score political points by appeasing Common Core critics.

That appeasement has now left the state with a test that won’t accomplish the fundamental goal of measuring Florida’s students against those in other states. Scott, who once embraced Common Core, has stumbled here.

The new test, which replaces the FCAT, is being developed to assess how well students meet the newly adopted Florida Standards, which are largely based on the Common Core model. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she doesn’t know how the test might align with other states. That left Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning to ask: “You are using nationally normed standards. Why wouldn’t you use a nationally normed assessment? I don’t get it.”

Neither do we. But the state abandoned common sense over Common Core after critics mounted a campaign to throw the standards overboard, claiming the effort amounted to a federal takeover.

Common Core is a more rigorous set of standards meant to better prepare students for college and careers by emphasizing critical thinking. With the strong backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush, the state climbed aboard in 2010 and began preparing for a test to be used by as many as 45 other states engaged in Common Core.

Legitimate concerns were raised about the readiness of states to adopt the standards, and whether things were moving too quickly. But the concerns raised about the supposed federal takeover pushed the debate into the political arena. With a tough election on the horizon, Scott sent the state on the appeasement path that has now upset all sides in the debate.

Common Core supporters are unhappy with changes that gut the core principle of comparing states, while Common Core critics are unhappy the entire process wasn’t overturned. This is what happens when you try to have it both ways.

Also unhappy are many of the educators who are left to deal with any fallout. Stewart says the new test will be developed in time to be administered next spring, a pretty tall order. The company that won the $220 million, six-year contract — the Washington-based nonprofit American Institutes for Research — is field-testing the new Florida assessment in Utah, raising questions about whether that state’s overwhelmingly white population can provide a good representation of Florida’s diverse student population.

Like the FCAT, there’s a lot riding on the new test. In addition to measuring achievement among Florida’s students, it will be used in teacher evaluations and to determine school grades.

The governor, without question, faced a dicey political situation. But the welfare of Florida schoolchildren should be the priority. Before he equivocated on Common Core, we wish Scott had simply asked himself, what would the state’s leading education reformer — Jeb Bush — have done.

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