RUSKIN — The Hillsborough County School District is holding informational meetings to be sure students and parents are prepared for the new Florida Standards curriculum, which will be fully implemented when school starts in August.
In 2010, Florida adopted Common Core State Standards, on which the Florida Standards are based, and the district phased in more rigorous standards over the past few years.
But the new standards have generated controversy with critics charging that standardized testing simply serves to enrich the companies behind the tests. Common Core also has drawn fire for ceding control of education to the federal government, which is why the state opted for the modified Florida Standards.
At a Tiger Bay forum last month, several school board candidates criticized Common Core and complained about high-stakes testing, but also said that standards need to be high.
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia stages her next informational meeting Wednesday at Hillsborough Community College's SouthShore campus in Ruskin, to talk to parents about the new standards.
"I think it's important we get out to parents and ease their minds some," she said.
She added: "This is a shift. This is asking a lot more of kids."
The Florida Standards will raise the education bar and put more emphasis on critical thinking.
Under the old standards, a first-grader would see this type of math problem: Tina has 15 balloons. She gave 12 away. How many does she have now?
Under the new standards, the problem would look like this: A small table seats 4. A large table seats double. Fifteen people came in at lunch. How many didn't get a seat?
"It's a lot more complicated," Elia said. "But, the same functions. They are building algebraic skills at a young age."
The Florida Standards will also focus on more nonfiction reading in language arts; in math, students will work deeper in fewer topics.
Elia said some students won't notice a difference. Others, she said, will have to learn a different approach to the way they learn.
The new standards mean the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is out. Elia didn't have many details on the new testing system. The American Institutes for Research is in charge of creating the new assessment, which will debut in the spring.
Elia said teachers have had the training to teach the Common Core and she is confident that students will succeed in new testing. She believes the new standards will help students excel after high school.
"The expectation is: we will have students leaving high school much more prepared for college or a career," she said.
Elia explained that it is an "American tradition" to raise standards. Jobs don't stay stagnant so why should education, she said.
In late June, about 250 people attended a Florida Standards meeting in Lithia.
The tone of the meeting was not confrontational. Instead, Elia said, parents wanted information so they could understand the new expectations and help their children. She expects a good turnout in Ruskin and other planned locations over the summer.
The district plans to hold more meetings about the Florida Standards during the school year. In addition, principals and teachers will keep families informed.
"The more we can keep parents in the loop, the better off we are," Elia said.
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