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As They Return To Tallahassee, Lawmakers Face New Questions On Common Core

The U.S. National Archives / Flickr

States across the country are taking a second look at shared K-12 math and English standards known as Common Core. Florida will use the standards in every grade starting this fall. Supporters say the standards set better expectations for high school graduates.

Critics say the standards limit local control and put too much emphasis on testing. They want the standards repealed. But there are new questions about Common Core for lawmakers as they return to Tallahassee.

“Remember: Claim evidence and commentary are in love. They are married. They cannot be away from each other. They cannot be separated," said Hillsborough County Middle School teacher Christina Phillips.

"And remember claim evidence and commentary, the mommy and the daddy, support baby claim."

Phillips is showing her students how to identify facts and support their ideas with evidence. It’s a big focus of Common Core.

State leaders say the argument about what’s in Common Core is over. Now they’re turning toward how to make the standards work in the classroom’s like Phillips’.

Senate Education chairman John Legg says lawmakers are waiting on a March decision from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. She’ll announce which test will replace the FCAT.

“But I do think the conversation is now moving past the standards of ‘How do we assess it? What do those assessments mean to individual teachers? And what does that mean to school in terms of accountability as a whole?’” said Legg.

The Port Richey Republican and others say they are facing a series of questions related to the standards as lawmakers return to Tallahassee. Are schools ready for the new online tests?Do schools have the money to properly train staff for the new standards?What are the best ways to keep student data safe?And will school districts be ready to use the standards in every grade when classes start this fall? Around the country, states are deciding the answer to the last question is no.

School leaders and parent groups want to have the same conversation in Florida. Florida PTA president Eileen Segal wants teachers to have a chance to learn the standards before their performance–and their school’s performance–is judged based on new Common Core tests.

"Florida PTA is in agreement with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and school board members requests a pause before fully implementing Florida’s new assessment tests on the standards in all K-12 grade levels until there is complete confidence in teacher and student preparation," Segal said.

Florida is one of 35 states which rates teachers based in part on their students’ test performance. The new Common Core tests are expected to be more difficult, which means fewer students will likely pass. About half as many New York and Kentucky students met state goals when they switched to Common Core exams.

Similar results are expected in Florida. That could mean more schools earning failing state grades, fewer teachers earning bonuses and parents not understanding why their kid no longer can pass the state exam.

Stewart says she doesn’t support pausing school grades or teachers evaluations.

“I am concerned about the adults in the system, but my number one, primary concern is for the students in Florida," said Stewart. "And I know that having a robust, strong, clear grading system is the right thing to do for students. And I don’t think that suspending school grading is the right thing to do for students.”

She’s recommended trimming down the state grading system and waiving penalties the first year of Common Core.

Legislative Democrats are asking what’s the hurry? Legg says lawmakers will decide during the session if they want to step in.

And Common Core critics say they aren’t giving up–they want lawmakers to repeal the standards. A bill has been filed to put Common Core on hold–but lawmakers don’t expect it to go anywhere.

Another bill would limit access to student data Florida collects. That bill has more support.

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John O’Connor is a reporter for StateImpact Florida, a project of WUSF, WLRN and NPR covering education. John writes for the StateImpact Florida blog and produces stories for air on Florida public radio stations.