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What’s Florida’s Education Plan? Lawmakers Expect Details This Week

John O'Connor
StateImpact Florida

The chairman of the Senate education committee is asking the Florida Department of Education to have its plans for new standards and assessments ready when commissioner Pam Stewart speaks at a meeting next week.

The education committee will meet Wednesday in Tallahassee.

Chairman John Legg said what Stewart says could determine whether lawmakers delay new exams, or make changes to the school grading formula or teacher evaluations.

“We’ve held off on asking her to come before us up until now because we felt they needed adequate time to assess these issues,” Legg said. “We’ve given that time and we’ve asked them to come forward with their recommendations and their plan in January.”

Among the questions lawmakers need to answer:

What, if any, changes need to be made to Common Core standards, scheduled to be used in every Florida classroom this fall? Florida is one of 45 states to fully adopt the English language arts, literacy and math standards.

Should Florida students begin taking a new test tied to Common Core in early 2015, or wait a year?

Should the state suspend school and district grading or teacher evaluations during the transition? Or just modify the requirements?

What changes are the legislature’s responsibility, and which ones should be left to the State Board of Education, Department of Education or local educators?

Common Core has been heavily criticized in Florida and around the country. The Florida Department of Education held a series of public meetings on the standards in October.

But Legg said he believed the debate no longer was about the content of the standards, but the best ways to implement them.

“I do think the conversation is moving past the standards to 'how do we assess it?'” he said. “What do those assessment mean to individual teachers? And what does that mean to schools in terms of accountability as a whole?”

Florida school superintendents have floated a significant overhaul to the state school grading system, timed to the switch to Common Core. The group wants to extend the transition to the new standards and rewrite the teacher evaluation law so student test scores count for less than one-third of the total score.

Legg said he doesn’t favor suspending school grading or teacher evaluations completely, but that lawmakers will consider some changes.

“I think you have willing ears to listen in that area,” he said. “There has to be some accountability. Could we modify to go into the new system? Absolutely.”