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Education Standards are muddled in Florida

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The terms are FCAT, PARCC, NGSS, and they all surround CCSS. The players in this spelling game are governors from 48 states, ex- governor Jeb Bush, national and state teacher unions, and the Tea Party.

45 states have signed on to the Common Core States Standards(CCSS). These standards mark the most serious effort to date to bring America’s public schools to a “common” set of educational “benchmarks” that hopefully will better educate its students.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) has been the state standard for the last decade. This test served to show what students in grades 3-11 had learned as a result of the taxpayer money spent to educate them. This test was part of Florida’s Sunshine State Standards.

But after humiliating scores reported by schools in traditionally underserved neighborhoods continued to flow into the state capital and similar reports across the country (other states were using a similar test and grading system), the FCAT has been all but scrapped. Although individual student test results weren’t publicized, school grades were reported on a scale of A thru F. D and F grades meant teacher and principal replacements. The poor grades also could prevent students from getting promoted or delaying high school graduations.

Enter Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSS). And although this set of “standards” is not completely aligned with the national initiative, its goal is similar: to increase the number of students who graduate from high school, are eligible for college, and can be competitive in the global economy.

Set to replace the FCAT is a test designed by the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC). An 19-state group backed by a federal grant is developing tests that will provide a state to state standard by which student achievement will be judged.

One of the hangups? The word “federal” is attached to it. This provides members of the Tea Party an excuse to attack it. Federal means Obama and that means socialism and that means it must be opposed at all costs. Even to the children who would benefit by standards that tell them and their parents how much they have learned and how much more they need to know.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who at first was for the standards and ready to ditch the FCAT and somewhat aligned with former Governor Jeb Bush, has once again done a turnaround on the education issue, by announcing that he will withdraw from the national consortium of governors, he may support Florida’s NGSS as long as it does not include any federal intervention. The problem with Scott is that his education message has been confounded by the fact that he has been unable to keep an Education Commissioner. He’s had three in his first term.

Teachers would receive the sharp edge of the sword once again with whatever standards are eventually agreed upon. They would be held accountable for the results of student test scores that eventually will be reflected in the passing or failing grade given to their school.

The Florida legislature seems genuinely confused by all of this (as is most of the public). The Governor, with no background in such matters, is clearly confused and unable to give clear direction. It is the legislature that will need to sort this out and provide direction. The money to fund these schemes flows through the state capital. As does all of the politics associated with it.

Confused by all of this? Imagine how parents, teachers and students feel.

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