TAMPA — School board members and superintendents from across Florida are hoping to pump the brakes on implementing tougher math and language arts standards into classrooms next school year.
Leaders from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and the Florida School Board Association voted Thursday to lobby state legislators for a three-year extension before the Common Core State Standards have to be fully implemented into every classroom. The new standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, are supposed to be in place by next school year. They rely heavily on new technology and have higher expectations for students after each grade level.
The educators who are meeting this week heard Thursday about how to take the next steps with Common Core, which, among other changes, expects third-graders to read at a fifth-grade level and fifth-graders at an eighth-grade level. Kindergarten, first-graders and second-graders already have been exposed to Common Core instruction as it slowly has been introduced into classrooms during the past few years.
“We’ve been following this for years and are ready to go,” Polk County School Board member Hunt Berryman said. “I think the only concerns we have now are with the testing, but that may be a bit overblown and it’s a bit too late to back out. ... There’s a lot of fear and anxiety about launching right now because this is something completely new.”
Many concerns about how to evaluate students were answered in November when Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced that students this year would not be required to take the tech-heavy, Common Core-aligned standardized test created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Gov. Rick Scott favors creating a “Florida model” of standardized testing.
A State Department of Education study shows that no school district has the technological infrastructure to support the volume of computers and other online resources needed for each student to take the PARCC test. School districts are skeptical that all the pieces necessary to make the Common Core transition successful will fall into place on time, Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego said.
“There are far too many unanswered questions about how all these assessments, which have not been field tested, are going to be tied to teacher assessments or are going to be a true measure of what our students are achieving,” Grego said. “We still don’t have textbooks that are consistent with the Common Core in all grade levels and, to me, that’s a major issue. That’s going to dictate the success of Florida’s accountability system in the future, and if we’re going to do this we need to do this right.”
Each school district at the four-day conference went home with extensive online libraries of articles, lesson plans and curricula to help teachers implement Common Core. However, the biggest test will come when students are expected to use critical thinking and listening skills rather than simply repeating information as they previously did, said Kevin Baird, chairman of the nonprofit Center for College and Career Readiness.
National and international studies show Florida students already lag their peers in math and reading. And while students are making nominal improvements, other states and standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT, which may become Florida’s replacement for the PARCC test, are raising their standards at an even faster rate.
Teachers and principals need more training; parents remain confused about the changes, and educators and school districts are concerned about how students’ performance on a combination of old and new tests will affect their state evaluations and, ultimately, their paychecks, said Linard Johnson, a teacher and school board member in Columbia County.
“Kids aren’t used to listening to their teachers teach. They wait for you to put information up on the screen so they can look at it,” Johnson said. “This is going to take a cultural change in our schoolhouses, and as a school board member I’m very concerned that we’re rushing ahead. It’s like a train wreck waiting to happen, and I’m telling you as a teacher our kids are going to wreck if we ask our kids to do these things before they are prepared.”