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Politics

Education Summit Dives Head First Into Student Assessments, PARCC

August 26, 2013 - 6:00pm

A group of teachers, legislators and education officials gathered Monday afternoon in Clearwater to begin a three-day summit focusing on education accountability in the Sunshine State.

Gov. Rick Scott called the summit, led by Interim Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. It will concentrate on four key priorities for Floridas education system: state standards, state standard assessments, school grades and teacher evaluations.

The summit drew a wide variety of prominent figures in Florida education, including legislators like Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, and Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach. Superintendents from around the state also attended.

Floridas education accountability system has become a national model, but we are at a crucial point in our history, Scott said in a statement Thursday. Our students need and deserve a quality education that emphasizes critical thinking and analysis. Our teachers and schools need our support as we continue to compete nationally and globally in preparing students for success in college, career and in life.

Floridas schools are at a critical turning point as they prepare to transition from the Sunshine State Standards to Common Core State Standards, a set of education standards adopted by 45 other states. Supporters of Common Core say the standards will help students think more critically about the material they learn in the classroom and in the real world.

Mondays session of the three-day summit heavily focused on the history of school grades, teacher evaluations and state standards, most without a great deal of audience commentary or argument.

When it came to the state standard assessments, however, there was considerable dialogue on whether Florida should adopt thePartnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test or have its own assessment for measuring the achievement of Floridas students.

Several were apprehensive about going through with PARCC and many expressed concerns about a federal overreach of Common Core and its associated testing.

The assessment test associated with Common Core has already received significant backlash from Senate President Matt Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who believe the test will be too time-consuming and costly for Floridas schools. They prefer to allow Florida to have its own assessment rather than opting for PARCC.

Juhan Mixon, executive director of Florida Association of School Administrators, expressed hesitation about the costliness of an assessment completed entirely on computers.

It is a major problem if we start projecting that testing should all be done on computers, he said. Perhaps we need to say that we should look at a combination of testing that includes a Plan A and Plan B, and not be all computer-generated assessments.

Considerable discussion revolved around the guiding principles surrounding assessments for Floridas students. The guiding principles were discussed at length and edited to reflect the summits opinion on Floridas direction regarding assessments moving forward.

Some of the guiding principles included taking into consideration districts technology readiness levels for computer-based testing. Another guiding principle focused on making sure Florida would make every effort in its policy and practice to do what is best for all students, including decoupling from overreaching and bureaucratic federal regulations and programs that do not contribute to student success.

Some participants said it was too early to hash out the specifics of PARCC on the first day of the summit.

It's premature on our first afternoon to have a discussion on PARCC as one of our guiding principles, said Wayne Blanton, executive director of Florida School Boards Association.

Others said student assessments should be part of the education equation, but not the entire focus of Floridas education system.

Assessment is important, but it should not drive the conversation, said Albert Carvalho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade School District. Standards should. The accountability system itself and some of the mechanics of it I think merit some observation and some conversation, and if the guiding principles are going to dictate or at least orient our discussion, Im afraid that some of the nuts and bolts may be left out of the conversation.

The education summit has already covered considerable ground involving the future of Floridas education and will run through Wednesday.


Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at allison@sunshinestatenews.com.

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