Sunday, Nov 23, 2014

Pinellas educators want to delay replacing the FCAT

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Educators in Pinellas County have spent years preparing to make radical changes to curriculums by 2014, but superintendents across the state are now questioning whether they can meet the deadline for replacing the FCAT.

School administrators from across Florida met in Tallahassee last week to discuss ways of delaying the process of replacing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test with a more text-heavy standardized test that’s supposed to accompany a new national curriculum set to debut in Florida schools by fall 2014, said Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego.

The superintendents are looking for recommendations from legislators, but there are no clear solutions yet on how to delay the testing process, said Joy Frank, general counsel for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

“This is a massive undertaking at a time where we have huge budget cuts, a new teacher evaluation system; we’re supposed to be transitioning from textbooks to digital content, so we have a lot on our plate,” she said. “If the test is not aligned to the curriculum that the students know, it’s not fair to them, especially when it’s a high-stakes exam.”

The Common Core, a new, nationwide school curriculum that emphasizes more reading and writing in every subject, would require students to take the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College Career test, PARCC, instead of the FCAT.

It also would require students to complete the test and other coursework on computers.

The Florida Board of Education has asked legislators to dedicate $480 million to update bandwidth and computer technology so schools are ready to take on the new curriculum and assessment. But Gov. Rick Scott has only proposed $100 million.

No school district has met all technological requirements required to start Common Core, such as having one computer for every two students, expanded broadband and Internet capabilities and “bring your own device” policies for students, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Several counties — Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Hardee, Jefferson, Osceola and Union — have yet to achieve any of the 12 Common Core requirements, according to the department.

The Pinellas school district has completed extensive training with teachers to make sure lesson plans are ready to go and is increasing Internet access for all 104,000 students, Grego said.

School officials have been slowly introducing Common Core into schools since 2011, but when it comes to beefing up other classroom technologies, the district is “still working on it,” Grego said.

“We’re still in the earlier stages with a lot of unknowns,” Grego said. “That’s why the association is saying, ‘Let’s make sure the testing platform and the technology is all up and running and we’re really able to administer an assessment that will be a high-stakes test.’

The association’s discussions don’t mean students could get out of taking a state standardized test, Grego said. But if students can’t take the test because they don’t have the needed technology, or haven’t been exposed to it, scores will be skewed.

In 2011, the Legislature linked teachers’ employment and raises to their students’ performance on FCAT. The same would be true of the PARCC. Student scores also determine the grade a school receives from the state.

Despite technological problems posed by the new test, which is still being written, all Florida school districts are on track to implement other course work tied to the Common Core curriculum, such as more essays and required reading, though “it will certainly be hard,” said Mary Jane Tappen, the Department of Education’s chancellor for curriculum, instruction and student services.

Superintendents are anxious to implement a more challenging curriculum, but not at the risk of low student test scores.

“We would rather do something exceedingly well than try to do three or four things all in one year and it doesn’t work or we struggle,” Grego said. “The risk is potentially harming our students, teachers, administrators and the whole credibility of state assessments.”


adawson@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @adawsonTBO

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