1. Opinion

Let’s improve Florida’s school standards, not throw them out

We should improve Florida’s school standards and stay on our path to success, says a math specialist.
Brian Dean
Brian Dean [ REBECCA ADLER ROTENBERG | File photo ]

Florida’s students have been improving their academic performance over the last few years (e.g. 61% of Florida students scored a level 3 or higher in Grades 3-8 mathematics in the spring of 2019 as compared to 56% in 2015). Our national test scores are improving too, and more and more students are graduating from high school better prepared for college or to start a career.

This month, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is doing a statewide listening tour to hear what direction parents and teachers want to see the department take regarding Florida’s academic standards. I hope that the message comes through loud and clear that we should improve, not toss out, the standards so our students stay on the path of educational success.

The ultimate goal for educators and policymakers has to be to make sure that students graduate ready to take on the world. No high school graduate should attend remedial math or English classes before being able to take college courses. Similarly, no graduate should be unable to secure employment because they don’t have the educational foundation to learn the job.

Thankfully, educators have worked hard the last few years to enact academic standards that will help students learn what they need to. That’s why it’s important that Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis ensure that we continue to improve standards.

The Florida Standards, what we have in schools now and were just reviewed and revised a few years ago, are good academic standards. Can they be better? Absolutely. I’ve been in education for 13 years and know that academic standards are always being revised to make them stronger, more rigorous, or to address shortcomings that weren’t initially seen. When you know better, you do better! Starting from scratch would be ill-advised as it would reset the clock and cause us to lose all the resources, benefits, and learnings that have made tremendous differences in our classrooms.

There is much value in resources, both at the district and national levels. We finally are at a place and time where we have many aligned resources centered around our standards. Teacher knowledge of Florida’s academic standards has expanded greatly, and districts have created professional development for teachers based on the standards. From robust textbooks to free national materials, teachers finally have all the resources they need to ensure each student can learn math at a high level.

Florida was the only state where students boosted math scores on NAEP in 2017, with both fourth- and eighth-graders doing better than counterparts in 2015, new results show. Florida was also one of just 10 states where 8th graders did better on the national reading exam compared to two years ago. When Florida’s students outperformed their peers on a national exam two years ago, educators felt validated we are putting children on the right path to success.

And when the Department of Education surveyed parents and teachers recently asking how the standards should be rewritten or changed, there should have been little surprise that the vast majority of educators, parents, and the community at large suggested either leaving them alone or making minor tweaks.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran [ CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times ]

I hope Commissioner Corcoran will listen with an open mind and an open heart. Parents and educators want the best for students. We want them to succeed at each grade level and to leave high school knowing they are well prepared for whatever the world throws at them.

Academic standards are the guidelines for what students should know by the end of each grade. Teachers and school administrators use these guidelines determine which curriculum works best for their school and their students. That process is working well and we are finally gaining momentum! Let’s not throw away all the good work that’s been done in school. Let’s make appropriate changes to update and strengthen the current standards that are putting students on the path to academic success.

Brian Dean is the math content lead for the non-profit Instruction Partners. He is the former senior instructional specialist for Pasco County Public Schools, has taught at the middle and high school level, and served as an instructional coach. Find him on Twitter @FLMathNinja.