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Education

Statewide education summit begins in Clearwater

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Published:   |   Updated: August 26, 2013 at 08:28 PM

CLEARWATER — School grades, teacher evaluations, education standards and standardized tests — the building blocks of Florida’s education system — seemed to be under constant criticism this summer from those on all sides of the political spectrum. But about 30 stakeholders from across the state are working in Clearwater this week to find common ground on the issues and plan the state’s next moves in education policy.

Recent controversy surrounding the nationwide Common Core school standards, as well as evaluations for teachers and schools, prompted Gov. Rick Scott to call the education summit of hand-picked teachers, legislators, school officials, business leaders and parents with differing points of view. Charged with reviewing the state’s accountability systems and creating an “ideal vision” for the future of Florida education, the group will meet at St. Petersburg College’s EpiCenter in Clearwater until Wednesday. The meeting, though, doesn’t indicate that Florida’s immediate plans for education will change, said Florida’s interim education commissioner, Pam Stewart.

“I think we’re very decisive in what we’re doing, but I think we’re also focused on moving the bar forward,” Stewart said. “There are some things we want to take a closer look at and make sure we’re on the right track.”

The summit’s opening conversations Monday focused on the positive aspects of Florida’s education system and the reasoning behind why the state came to adopt its current standards, grades and evaluations. However, a group of Common Core protestors that greeted participants at the door were a visual reminder of the challenge education leaders face in getting everyone to agree on the best way forward.

“Florida’s Sunshine State Standards were well on their way toward becoming the best in the nation, so why not leave them alone?,” said South Pasadena resident Pete Franco.

“Everyone I know wants to make education better, but it should be up to parents, teachers and the state to determine what’s needed, not the government.”

The state has already dedicated numerous resources toward training teachers and familiarizing students with the Common Core, which will require students to do more reading writing and critical thinking in all subject areas. Common Core has been slowly implemented in all grades since 2011, and Florida’s second-graders have only received Common Core instruction throughout their schooling. If the state fully adopts Common Core, everything from standardized testing to school and teacher evaluations will have to change.

Scott didn’t attend Monday’s meeting but did leave the group with seven guiding principles for the state’s accountability system, many of which were echoed by participants, such as ensuring that Florida’s accountability and grading systems be “easy to understand,” transparent” and “meaningful.”

The only principle the group didn’t ratify was one that dismissed the PARCC assessment, the standardized test Florida is due to adopt for the 20141-2015 school year to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, as unwieldy and too expensive.

Bruce Proud, executive director of the Pinellas County teachers’ union, wasn’t impressed with what he heard Monday afternoon.

“It seems like more of a political show than a real collaboration, evidenced by the guiding principals and attempts to say, ‘Here’s what we believe. Do you agree? Nod your head,’ ” Proud said. “I don’t think this is going to create transparency.”

The group will discuss school standards and standardized testing today and school grades and teacher evaluations Wednesday, with discussions broadcast on www.fldoe.org.

adawson@tampatrib.com

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