Florida education commissioner offers details on transition to new tests
With instructions from the governor to reconsider Florida's role in the PARCC testing consortium, education commissioner Pam Stewart has been crafting a plan to transition the state away from the FCAT to Common Core assessments.
She's to present her thoughts to the State Board of Education on Tuesday.
In documents attached to the board's agenda (start at page 41), Stewart states that the Department of Education is pursuing "several options" and needs until March to make a final decision. She details that the state has three primary options, a "shelf" or "semi-shelf" test, a partnership with other states, or PARCC. Then she offers advantages and disadvantages to each.
For a "shelf assessment," the pros include the ability to compare results with other states, the availability of a paper and pencil version, and the requirement of timely reports. On the down side, this option has few options of unknown quality, little opportunity for Florida field testing or design input, and unknown technology requirements.
For a state partnership, the benefits include the flexibility to work with states that have goals most closely aligned to Florida's, as well as a possibility to partner for future products. Disadvantages include a limited number of states to partner with, and a dependence on the stability of the partner state.
PARCC, which Florida is considering whether to abandon, has positives including a high correlation between the tests and the Common Core, economies of scale because of the size of the consortium, and the fact that Florida has been involved in its creation from the state. On the opposite side, the state would see its testing time increase, while governing and purchasing processes past 2015 remain undetermined.
Detractors including the governor have suggested that PARCC opens the door to federal involvement in state education policy, a concern that arises mostly in the tea party wing of the Republican Party. That is another area that remains to be explored.
PARCC remains an option, but it will be treated like other vendors in the system. State Board members have reiterated their support for the Common Core standards, but have shown a willingness to consider other testing options. Superintendents have urged the state not to look for a "homegrown" test, which would limit the opportunities to compare Florida students to others using the standards.
The board meets in Tampa on Tuesday. Expect a lively conversation as the state continues to seek ways to increase student standards and improve the credibility of its accountability system, while also remaining mindful of all the politics of the Common Core.