Have input on Florida’s school standards? Better be quick.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to consider adoption on Feb. 12, while a related testing bill hits the House today.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the outline of new Florida academic standards on Jan. 24. The full version came out a week later, with plans for an adoption vote on Feb. 12.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the outline of new Florida academic standards on Jan. 24. The full version came out a week later, with plans for an adoption vote on Feb. 12. [ Florida Department of Education ]
Published Feb. 4, 2020|Updated Feb. 4, 2020

Angling to stick to a set time frame, the Florida Board of Education has scheduled Feb. 12 as the date it intends to consider adoption of the state’s proposed new academic standards.

That’s just two weeks after the Department of Education unveiled the detailed documents, which number 216 pages for math and 220 pages for language arts, and just three weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled the overview to eliminating Common Core with the message “mission accomplished.”

Bills to implement some of the governor’s related testing recommendations also are moving ahead. One is up for consideration in its first House committee this morning.

Some educators suggested the calendar might not offer enough time to compare the new proposal to the existing standards, and then truly understand them. They expected that review would take weeks, or longer.

But if they want to try to influence the State Board, interested parties will need to pore through the pages and head to Tallahassee for the adoption session, which was rescheduled from late January to accommodate the standards process.

Department officials were quick to note that the public has offered ample feedback. The department received thousands of comments about the proposals through the various reviews this past year, and held a nine-city listening tour in October after the second draft dropped.

“The public can still give input through,” spokeswoman Taryn Fenske added. “And we are planning for plenty of time for public comment at the board meeting.”

Don’t expect another tour for feedback sessions, though. Officials once hinted such visits might be in order to give people in Broward and Miami-Dade counties a chance for face-to-face input, which they didn’t get in the fall.

No such hearings are expected, although department officials plan to keep meeting with education organizations even after the board vote.

The Legislature, meanwhile, is doing its part to cooperate with the governor’s direction.

Certain test-related aspects of DeSantis’ initiative require legislative action. He wants to require a high school civics exam, for instance, and do away with the ninth-grade state language arts test.

Related: Florida to debut high school civics test

A bill headed to the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee early Tuesday would implement those proposals, and more.

The 46-page measure would mandate the high school civics test as part of the U.S. government course, and allow it to meet the state’s college-level civics literacy requirement. It would authorize the Department of Education to seek federal approval to reduce its mathematics testing, and if received to eliminate the state geometry end-of-course exam.

It also would end the ninth-grade language arts test, and require all school districts to provide either the SAT or ACT to all juniors annually, at the state’s expense. The SAT and ACT results would be added into the state’s school grading system.

The bill would make other changes to the state’s accountability system, as well. It proposes that all schools earning D or F in annual grading must immediately implement an intervention plan. (Currently, a school must receive two consecutive D’s or one F to fall into that category.)

That section of the legislation also would place more restrictions on schools that do not improve. Those include allowing the state to revoke an approved turnaround plan, and setting a school’s turnaround options if it drops back to D or F within four years after achieving a C or higher.

The legislation would require adoption by both the House and Senate, which has not introduced a testing bill yet.

With approvals likely, educators have begun contemplating how all the changes might affect Florida education. Not everyone is thrilled. Many advocated against change, and some still do so.

“This not good for our students to achieve academic success in school,” Polk County teacher Shandale Terrell wrote in a guest column for the Ledger newspaper.

Related: Fifth time in 24 years. Why Florida is changing school standards, again

Two curriculum specialists with the Pinellas County school district offered generally positive reviews, though they noted that much will rely on how education professionals approach implementation.

Math specialist Matthew Rothenberger praised the move toward standards that do not encompass many ideas in one, making them more understandable. For instance, he pointed to an algebra standard that has included several items, such as linear equations, quadratics and exponentials, and noted in the new version those are broken into individual pieces before combining the concepts.

He mentioned the state’s reference to “crazy math” that was supposed to be eliminated, and said he didn’t know what that meant. But he did observe that many parents and students struggled to understand the expectations, and suggested the changes “provided a lot more clarity about what is expected.”

That should help students, parents and teachers, he said.

Perhaps his biggest concern within the recommendations connected to the new standards’ heavy slant toward procedure, at the expense of concepts and application. The Common Core drew fire in part for trying to teach students multiple approaches to solving questions, which some critics thought unnecessarily confusing.

But the emphasis on procedure isn’t something teachers can’t deal with, Rothenberger said. They’ll still be responsible for teaching the how and why, alongside the what.

“It’s not something that’s going to go away from our instruction,” he said.

Language arts specialist Jennifer Duda said she saw immediate differences between the old standards and the proposals, starting in the introduction. She pointed to the section titled “Knowledge Matters,” which speaks to the need to tie literacy to content.

“They just plainly come out and say literacy is not achievable with a strict skills-based approach,” she said. “That is a distinct difference from the Common Core.”

And one that makes sense, she added. Providing students with background knowledge will likely be “something that I think teachers and parents will take comfort in,” Duda said.

She also liked the clear, concise language of the new standards, rather than the vague and often complicated wording of the current incarnation. It should help students track their own progress, while also clarifying for teachers.

“There was a good faith effort here to demystify every benchmark,” she said, adding that she also supported the proposal’s “spiraling" of standards from one grade level to the next, showing how they connect and evolve. “The goals of these benchmarks are not buried. That’s a benefit to everyone.”

Regarding the move to embed entire books into the reading standards, Duda found good and bad. She said she appreciated the attempt to recommend well written and important literature, and not just focus on passages, as the Common Core did.

At the same time, she acknowledged the selections were not necessarily widely diverse, even while representing a broad cross section of genres and time periods. Almost no living authors appeared, for instance, despite there being a “contemporary” section.

What makes it acceptable, she suggested, is that the state is clear that the list is not all encompassing or meant to be limiting.

“Whenever we look at a book list, the fear is what is excluded,” Duda said. “We embrace culturally inclusive education.”

She anticipated lively discussions as schools and districts begin to review materials for adoption.

“Our educators will be digging in and learning all the nuances,” she said. “We appreciate having something to build from.”

Karen Effrem, who leads the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, shared the view that the proposed standards offer much positive to work with. She observed that a few small pieces of Common Core remain, but said overall the new standards are “outstanding.”

“It is not perfect, it’s not the total rewrite that we had asked for in the beginning," Effrem said, "but it is so much better.”