TAMPA — While calling for better oversight of high-stakes tests, Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia continues to support Florida's transition to the national Common Core education standards.
"Common Core is a natural progression in raising standards for students," Elia told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Thursday. Among other things, "we will be in a much better situation for students who are graduating and going to college."
Common Core combines disciplines to give students a deeper understanding of a select number of topics, rather than a superficial knowledge of many. Testing for the standards will be consistent across participating states, allowing fair comparisons and making it easier when families move.
But concerns have arisen about the tests, along with the whole idea of a national curriculum. Recently, Republican leaders in the Legislature suggested withdrawing from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is creating exams for Common Core.
"Should we be testing for the standards that we are teaching? Absolutely," Elia said. But "to do some of the assessments that match the kind of skills development that you're expecting in Common Core, it takes longer. And in Florida people are so sensitive about the timing of testing, that's become a big issue."
Elia was among superintendents who questioned the validity of last year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results, which led to a widespread drop in school grades. Hillsborough had four "F" schools and would have more, if not for a cushion the superintendents advocated.
Among the reasons for remaining with the PARCC test, she said, is Florida's flawed history of testing. "I wouldn't put Florida again in a situation where we are working with a company, developing our own test," she said, adding that the grading formula went through 34 changes in two years. "You can't absorb that."
Elementary schools felt the most impact this year, she said, as there was a problem in measuring student growth.
"I'm in favor of accountability," she said. "I just think we have to do it in an appropriate way."
The system needs oversight, she said, suggesting committees that include people outside Florida. And there should be parallel measures, such as the Stanford Achievement Test. The state used to administer the Stanford, but stopped because of the cost.
"You have a responsibility, when you give a high-stakes test, to have checks on that test," she said.