Education reformers need to cool their jets for a while

Published Sept. 21, 2013

Fourscore and three education commissioners ago, Florida decided to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

This was in the summer of 2010 when education reform was still in vogue and the 2014-15 school year seemed a lifetime away.

Back then, we were cutting edge. We were leaders. We were at the forefront of accountability and changing expectations in education.

We were going to wisely blend Common Core concepts within our Sunshine State Standards and be ready to launch a new era of educational excellence in the 2014-15 school calendar.

There's just one problem. All these years later, we still haven't decided on a test to assess the new standards. Not to mention, critics are now challenging the entire philosophy of national standards.

All of which raises the question: Is there any accountability for the people in charge of accountability?

To be honest, I don't know who to blame. I don't even know if it is possible to point a finger at any one person or group or if this is a collective failing.

But here's what I do know:

The people who scream loudest about accountability in schools need to cool their jets for the next couple of years.

For there is no way you can magically pull a test out of a hat at this late stage and then use it to determine whether a child can be promoted to the next grade, whether a teacher gets a favorable employee evaluation or whether a school is assigned a passing grade.

"You have to have accountability, and as a parent you have to know where your child stands, so these tests are important,'' Florida PTA president Eileen Segal said. "But we also want everyone to realize this is a new test, and it has to be rolled out properly.''

Considering the number of issues with FCAT over the years, it is absolute folly to believe you can introduce a brand new exam with a new set of standards and immediately use it as the litmus test for graduations, raises and funding.

And all this quibbling over which test is best for Florida only reinforces that point.

The state had been gearing up to use the test from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers , or PARCC, but is now questioning its effectiveness.

That means Florida might decide to adopt another state's assessment tests, or develop its own test (FCAT's version of an updated iPhone, I suppose) in the next few months.

For many who have questioned Florida's fanaticism with standardized tests, the issue was not the tests themselves. It was the way the state tied everything else to the results of those tests, turning classrooms into assembly lines where quotas were the lone objective.

That's why the state needs to be absolutely certain with this next generation of tests. And the only way to be certain is to try them out for a couple of years.

See how the students perform. See what the teachers think. In other words, let's be smart enough to collect the data and actually learn from the tests themselves.

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And if that means hitting the pause button on school grades or minimum test requirements, then so be it.

After all, accountability goes both ways. And when it comes to Common Core, our education leaders have not held up their end of the bargain.