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Who's in Charge of Florida's Decision About Common-Core Tests?

In my post earlier this week about the Florida state board naming Pam Stewart as the new full-time education commissioner, I noted that Stewart discussed making a decision about the state's role in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (one of two consortia developing tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards) by March of next year. Apparently, GOP Gov. Rick Scott has other ideas.

In remarks to the Tallahassee bureau for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times published Sept. 19, Scott said that the PARCC tests, in his estimation, are "too expensive and it takes too long." He said he is considering a variety of fixes, including an executive order or legislative action, to alter the state's involvement with those assessments. CORRECTED: I initially mis-attributed the interview as being given to the Bradenton Herald. Thanks to Jeff Solochek for pointing this out.

At Stewart's confirmation as education commissioner Sept. 17, state board member Kathleen Shanahan mentioned rumors that Scott would consider unilaterally withdrawing Florida from PARCC, and that such a move would undermine the state board's authority over Florida's involvement in PARCC. Right now, the state is still a member, but isn't slated to participate in field tests for the 2013-14 school year.

In order to drop out of PARCC, a state must send a letter from its governor, the leader of its state board, and its state superintendent, to the consortium stating its desire to withdraw. On the one hand, what Scott says doesn't pass that test. Neither an executive order or a bill he signs into law would cover the state board or superintendent, who might be willing to pick a fight with the governor about the matter. Clearly, Shanahan isn't pleased at the prospect.

"If the governor really wants them to get away from it, they'll find a way to do it," Efrain Mercado, the project director of the Common Core State Standards at the National Association of State Boards of Education, told me. He cited the power of chief executives to ultimately approve or deny funding for the common tests. Florida could also stop being an active member even if it did not officially drop out, and the consortium doesn't hold legal power over the state regarding membership.

But Scott may not contemplating how difficult it might be for Florida to find a different, truly comparable test that delivers what PARCC can, in the kind of time Florida will need that test, Mercado added.

On the other hand, Scott may not particularly care if he's following PARCC's rules for dropping out. He might be thinking that he's the chief executive of the state and isn't bound by what a multistate, nongovernmental organization says his state can or can't do. And he'd have the political support of legislative leadership, Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, who don't like PARCC at all.

Scott clearly doesn't agree with (or isn't aware of) PARCC's own analysis about its costs for each state and how much it would change, which, as education policy analyst Chad Aldeman highlights, show that Florida would save $16.3 million annually on PARCC tests compared to its current ones.

And in case you need a bit more of a common-core news fix from the South today, Tennessee began its own legislative hearings on the standards on Sept. 19. Both state K-12 boss Kevin Huffman and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam are firmly behind the standards. But Haslam may not be facing the same kind of political pressure over the common core that Scott is, pressure that the news article highlights.

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