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Florida Names Pam Stewart Commissioner, Removing Interim Tag

The Florida Board of Education today voted to name Pam Stewart as the state's education commissioner. Stewart is taking the place of former K-12 chief Tony Bennett, who resigned Aug. 1. Stewart had been serving as the state's interim commissioner following Bennett's resignation in the wake of the Indiana A-F controversy, and was also interim education commissioner after the resignation of Gerard Robinson the previous summer until Bennett took over last January.

State board member John Colon, who made the official motion to name Stewart commissioner, perhaps provided the key motivation behind her nomination when he said he hoped for a "steady hand" in control of the state's education department: "I, for one, would like some continuity here on this board and at the Department of Education." Stewart had served as chancellor at the state department in a full-time role, which includes overseeing the state's federal Race to the Top grant program and the state's virtual education program. Previously, she worked as a classroom teacher, principal, and district administrator in Florida.

Stewart's nomination had been anticipated. The additional news that came out of the board meeting today is that Stewart said the state will make a final decision about whether to use the assessments from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards, by March. In the meantime, the state will consider its testing options for the common core standards. That marks a big shift from Bennett, who in July pledged that the state would make up its mind by the start of September about the PARCC assessments. At today's meeting, board members also made it clear that they have no intention of abandoning the common core, although a Republican state representative has introduced legislation demanding a halt to the standards at least until further review.

Field testing for PARCC, then, is definitely a no-go in Florida under this new timeline, although Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts' education chief and chairman of PARCC's governing board, already indicated as much earlier this year. That leaves a lot of time for Florida to decide on whether to stick with PARCC or take its business elsewhere, or perhaps even come up with its own test. It will be a relatively early and large test of Stewart's leadership and decision-making skills.

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