Florida May Use Common Core Tests Despite Executive Order

Florida May Use Common Core Tests Despite Executive Order
October 3, 2013

Kathlyn Shirley

Kathlyn Shirley writes from Washington, DC. (read full bio)

Florida may still use national Common Core tests even though Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order on Sept. 23 limiting the state’s involvement with them. Scott raised concerns about Florida’s use of tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of two national, federally funded Common Core testing organizations.

While Florida has stopped managing PARCC’s finances and membership, it has not yet withdrawn from the organization, and new Education Commissioner Pam Stewart recently told Florida superintendents in an email that the test is still in the running “while we conduct a competitive procurement.”

PARCC tests, “as designed today, do not meet the needs of our students or the expectations of state leaders,” Scott wrote, citing the federal government’s “intrusion” into and coercion of what he views as a state and local issue. Common Core is a set of education goals in math and English for K-12, called standards. Federally funded nonprofits wrote it, and the Obama administration has required states to adopt the goals and their future tests to receive federal funds and favors.

The National Scene
“Florida taking a few steps backwards is significant and it suggests how bumpy things have gotten for Common Core advocates,” said Rick Hess, education director at the American Enterprise Institute. Florida’s decision is significant “because it has long been at the forefront of accountability [and] has been one of the key states in the PARCC consortium,” he said.

Because of its key position within PARCC and leadership of Republican education policies, Florida’s decision will make some waves, Hess said. Florida adopted Common Core in 2010, and many state lawmakers saw it as an extension of “standards plus choice” policies that began with former Gov. Jeb Bush and continued under former House Speaker Marco Rubio. Bush has vigorously defended the standards, while Rubio, now a U.S. Senator, has spoken against them.

“As the controversy surrounding [Common Core] has grown, there has been a movement within the state to step back and take a longer, second look,” said Bill Mattox, a resident fellow at the James Madison Institute.

Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana are other prominent Republican governments to also recently voice concerns about Common Core, similarly citing federal intrusion and costs. Walker said Wisconsin “can do better” than Common Core.

Florida is the latest state to backtrack from PARCC. The testing organization has gone from 24 members to 18 in the past several months.

What’s Next
Scott’s order directs the education commissioner to procure new tests to fit Common Core through an open, competitive bidding process.  She must review current student data security policies and recommend legislation to change them, and recommend new policies for  teacher evaluations and school accountability systems “to provide stability and clarity to Florida’s students, parents, and teachers.”

His order also provides for the state to hold three public hearings on Common Core and gather public comments.

In July, Florida’s House speaker and Senate president wrote a letter advocating that the state drop the tests, largely for high costs, lost classroom time, and the testing organization’s lack of clear student data privacy policies.

State Rep. Debbie Mayfield (R-Indian River County) has filed legislation that would halt Common Core until Florida publicly reviews the standards and assesses the costs of switching to the system. House Bill 25 would also withdraw the state completely from PARCC.

True Change?
Florida is currently on schedule to retain the Common Core standards, and find tests to match them. Because of this distinction, not much is likely to change, despite the governor’s order.

“They will say they have made changes and that it is now Florida Standard Assessments. It’s still the Common Core,” said Karen Effrem, cofounder of Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. “The [assessments] really won’t have changed.”

This is because standards provide the template for the tests that measure whether teachers have taught them, Hess said.

“Standards without a test do not mean anything,” he said. “It is not clear that many states are going to formally abandon the Common Core Standards.” 

Image by Gage Skidmore.

Kathlyn Shirley

Kathlyn Shirley writes from Washington, DC. (read full bio)