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Florida Gov. Rick Scott: State Will Curtail Role in Common-Core Testing Consortium

UPDATED

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has told U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that state will curtail its role in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two multistate consortia developing assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. 

UPDATE: Here are links to Scott's letter to Duncan, as well as what he wrote to state board chief Gary Chartrand about the situation.

In an interview, Pam Stewart, Florida's education commissioner, said the state has not withdrawn from PARCC because of Scott's actions. According to the letter, she says, Scott is only directing that the state no longer serve as PARCC's fiscal agent, and that he is acting in the legally appropriate manner. She said that both Scott's letter and the state board's earlier decisions still mean that the state will be examining "all options" with regard to common-core assessments. Stewart confirmed that the state will no longer serve as PARCC's fiscal agent.

The language in Scott's letters doesn't in fact state explicitly that the state is out of PARCC entirely. But its relationship with PARCC in practice now has to be called highly questionable, at best. A state that is a PARCC member in normal standing would not feel the need to formally look for other assessment options. Indiana in practice stopped participating in PARCC several months before it dropped out, and Florida may be headed down a similar path. In addition, the letter makes it clear that Florida and PARCC are fundamentally at odds—Scott told Duncan that PARCC has become the "primary entry point" for federal intrusion into education decisions that should be made at the state and local level. Interestingly, Scott said that the state wouldn't rule out using the PARCC test itself eventually through competitive bids, but reiterated his concerns about the federal government's role with PARCC. 

The news marks a significant shift for the state's involvement in PARCC—the state has been in charge of the consortium's financial matters, and has been called one of the leading states in the consortium, in part just because of Florida's size. But common core has caught more and more political flak as the year has gone on. Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford told Scott in July that because of cost concerns and the timeliness of test results, the state should leave PARCC. (All three are Republicans.) PARCC's governing board chairman, Massachusetts K-12 boss Mitchell Chester, has called these concerns misplaced, but that hasn't stopped the political momentum against the PARCC assessments.

I wrote about the mechanics of Florida's possible withdrawal from PARCC last week. The consortium requires the consent of a state's governor, state board of education chief, and state superintendent to withdraw, but as Efrain Mercado told me last week, the governor doesn't appear legally bound to follow that rule. PARCC, as well as the other multistate testing consortium, Smarter Balanced, are funded entirely by the federal government, with each receiving about $180 million.

PARCC lost a defender (of a sort) in Florida in August, when then-Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett resigned amid political controversy centered on his actions unrelated to common core while serving as Indiana's superintendent last year. Bennett said in July that Florida was weighing its options and would make a decision on PARCC by the end of August, but his resignation scrambled that timetable. During a discussion earlier this month at the state school board, newly appointed commissioner Pam Stewart said the state was weighing its testing options and would instead make a decision by March. That timetable, in turn, seems to have been overtaken by Scott's action, but Stewart denied that it had in her conference call with reporters. 

In addition, legislation has been introduced for the 2014 state legislative session to "freeze" the common core in Florida pending further review, but the ultimate fate of that bill is anyone's guess. 

Indiana and Georgia have also left the PARCC consortium this year, but Scott's announcement, even if it doesn't constitute a full withdrawal, might be particularly worrisome for supporters of PARCC and common-core aligned tests. 

CLARIFICATION: The Associated Press reported initially that Florida would "pull out of a national test" (referring to PARCC), and that the state would develop its own high-stakes assessment. But given Stewart's remarks and Scott's letter, I've updated the post to reflect that technically, Florida hasn't withdrawn from the consortium. 

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