Florida's discredited school accountability system is about to get worse if the mad rush continues to adopt new tests to reflect tougher standards. The Legislature should hit the pause button and adopt a more rational timeline for implementing the Common Core State Standards and companion assessments. Otherwise, the state is being unfair to teachers and students and dooming another accountability system to failure before it starts.
At least some state leaders are getting the message. Several senators raised valid concerns at a committee meeting last week that a fast-track plan to write and implement a new testing system by the coming school year is unworkable. State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she could select a vendor by March, adopt test language by June and be ready to go statewide in the fall. But that leaves no time for bid protests by companies who don't win the job or valuable field testing to ascertain if the tests performs as educators hope. Stewart argues field testing benefits vendors more than students, but that ignores the advice from county school superintendents and the Department of Education's dubious record in administering the flawed Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Since the state embraced the Common Core standards in 2010, the timeline has been ambitious for moving to a new curriculum and tests by 2014-15. Legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott made it worse when they foolishly removed Florida from a nonprofit national consortium, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, that was well on its way to building a set of tests. Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz abruptly pulled the state out amid erroneous tea party claims that Common Core was being forced on the states by the federal government.
In fact, the movement was a bipartisan effort launched by states. Common Core sets benchmarks for what students should be learning in English, language arts and mathematics from kindergarten through 12th grade. Those standards are already part of Florida's kindergarten through Second grade curriculum. Now it is expanding to all grades and new tests are needed to measure whether students are hitting those benchmarks.
The school superintendents grasp the scope of the impending train wreck for students, teachers and schools if the state insists on this breakneck schedule. They propose a three-year transition plan to allow more time to implement the Common Core curriculum and adopt new tests that will be used to measure student performance, evaluate teachers and grade schools. In those three years, superintendents say school districts should have the flexibility to create tests to measure students and have said the state could tweak the accountability standards to match.
In an ideal world, Florida would be in better shape. It would have worked within PARCC to build assessments and tweaked implementation dates to ensure a smooth transition. But there's still time to put quality above political expediency. Lawmakers should force the state to slow down and do this right rather than so fast it is sure to fail.