Questions linger about new state exams
A subplot at Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Education Committee involved the next generation of standardized tests.
As Florida schools transition to the Common Core State Standards (or some version of the national benchmarks tailored to Florida), the state education department must develop new standardized tests.
Four testing companies and one non-profit have submitted proposals in hopes of winning the contract: Pearson, ACT, CTB/McGraw-Hill, McCann Associates, and the American Institutes for Research.
The list does not include the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness, or PARCC, the multi-state consortium originally designated as Florida’s top choice.
PARCC did not participate in the competitive bidding process because it receives federal Race to the Top funds, which cannot be used for procuring state contracts, a spokeswoman told The Herald/Times last week.
But PARCC did submit 51 pages of general information about its exams, and still hopes to be considered.
Is PARCC still in the running?
State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's response to that question Wednesday wasn't clear.
“PARCC did not apply,” Stewart told the Senate Education Committee. “I would suggest to you, it will depend on the five applications. It cannot be considered as part of the [competitive bidding process].”
Does that mean PARCC could be considered separately from the competitive bidding process. Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, pressed for an answer, but Stewart said she could not provide details.
One person at the meeting was cool on PARCC: Senate President Don Gaetz.
Last summer, when Florida was still committed to PARCC, Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford urged Gov. Rick Scott to consider other options –- a recommendation the governor ultimately followed.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Gaetz said he was “pleased to hear the commissioner say today that even though PARCC has submitted a non-response response to the [bid solicitation], that notwithstanding that fact, that they were not under consideration.”
“I don’t have anything against the folks at PARCC,” Gaetz said. “I probably couldn’t identify any of them in a lineup. I don’t know who they are. All I know is that the proposal that was in front of the state of Florida a year ago was a proposal that I thought, and Speaker Weatherford thought, had some serious flaws. We wanted Florida out of PARCC and now we are.”
If it came down to a floor vote, the Senate President said, he would vote against the PARCC exams.
Some educators contend PARCC is the best choice for Florida because it would allow Florida to compare itself to other states. (More than a dozen states are field testing the PARCC exams this spring, the spokeswoman said.) But Gatez said he was not worried about Florida developing its own test.
“I had a conversation with the [U.S] Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about that topic a few months ago and for what it’s worth, Secretary Duncan didn’t seem overly concerned that Florida would be unable to be evaluated against the performance of other states," he said. “And that was a specific question that he and I talked about when Speaker Weatherford and I wrote a letter saying here are the problems with PARCC and we think Florida ought to get out of it. Arne Duncan and I talked about whether or not that would mean that Florida would have a hard time in valuable and reliable comparisons, he didn’t think so, and I don’t think so."