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Florida Will Not 'Punt' on Common-Core Tests, Commish Stewart Tells Lawmakers

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart gave an unofficial "state of education" presentation, as one Florida legislator put it, to the state senate education committee, in which she touched on several issues related to both the Common Core State Standards and their associated assessments. 

With so many eyes on Florida in terms of which assessment the state will actually use to measure student performance on the common core, Stewart, perhaps not surprisingly, was coy as to the exact identity or other specifics about the issue. My colleague Catherine Gewertz over at the Curriculum Matters blog has delved into the five companies that have responded to Florida's "invitation to negotiate" with proposals for state assessments aligned to the standards, and where exactly PARCC stands in the mix.

Different vendors have developed, administered, and scored the state's long-standing state assessment, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). So it's unclear which vendor—if any vendor—has an edge based on past business with the state, although I've asked the Florida department for the list of those vendors for each year the FCAT or FCAT 2.0 has been administered.

While she didn't get into more illuminating details on those fronts, Stewart did say that the state will not "punt" on its selection of assessments. According to the timeline Stewart provided to lawmakers, the state will actually make the decision about the next assessment to use in March. She added that the state will "have what we need to have in place" for the 2014-15 school year tests by June 2014. 

As a large, high-profile state, if Florida chooses a testing vendor with a product that is ready to be administered off the shelf, it could have an influence on several states who might also be looking for a "ready-to-drive" assessment not produced by PARCC or Smarter Balanced (their tests are still under development). Neighboring Georgia, which dropped out of PARCC last year, could be one such state. In total, nine states have no formal relationships with either testing consortia, although that doesn't necessarily describe the entire market for non-consortia tests. 

This point is related to another nugget Stewart let drop to lawmakers: There will be no field-testing of whatever assessment Florida chooses. That's not exactly a surprise, since the timeline Florida has set for itself seems to leave virtually no time for the state to administer a field test by the end of the 2013-14 academic year. [CLARIFICATION: I should make clear here that given the state's schedule, there's virtually no time for the state to develop its own assessment and then field test it by the end of this school year.] Stewart told state lawmakers that such field tests were really only of use to testing companies. 

"Whether or not our Florida students have practiced on that test is not significant," she said.

In terms of the standards themselves, Stewart said she expected some relatively minor changes to the way the standards would be taught in Florida schools, based on a review of the stanards that has gone on over the last few months and has included public testimony. As an example of one of these minor changes, she cited the use of money in classroom lessons to help explain decimals—right now, she said, the standards approach decimals in a more abstract way. But she said these changes wouldn't have any significant impact on the test the state ends up selecting. 

Many of the public comments the state received about the common core, the commissioner noted, were general in nature and "didn't directly speak to the standards." On average, the 1,600 individuals who submitted common-core public comments each submitted roughly 10 comments. 

The state school board will review suggestions for altering the standards and make final judgments about them at its Feb. 18 meeting. As for the full assessment-selection timeline, here's a screengrab of part of the presentation Stewart gave to lawmakers:

PamStewart2.PNG

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