Common Core discussion takes center stage as education board meets at Santa Fe


The Florida State Board of Education, including from left to right, Kathleen Shanahan, Ada G. Armas, and Pam Stewart, discusses the agenda with input from President Jim Henningsen giving an update on the Florida College System on behalf of the Council of Presidents and from Superintendent Margaret Smith giving an update on K-12 public schools on behalf of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents at the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., Tuesday, November 19, 2013.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.

At her last meeting of an eight-year tenure on the Florida Board of Education, Kathleen Stranahan on Tuesday skipped the sentimental stuff and cut straight to the chase.

After briefly recognizing some gains Florida has made in recent years -- higher achievement on standardized tests, particularly by minority students -- she reminded her fellow board members how much work they have left.

“There's still lots to do,” she told them during the board's meeting at Santa Fe College's Fine Arts Hall. “And you guys have big missions.”

Gov. Jeb Bush first appointed Shanahan, his former chief of staff, to the Board of Education in 2006.

A businesswoman from Tampa with a background in biochemistry, she was reappointed by Gov. Charlie Crist and served as chairwoman of the board in 2011 and 2012.

On Tuesday, Shanahan expressed hope that the board would continue to push for what works for Florida's students, then took a subtle shot at Gov. Rick Scott, saying that no one should “try to direct the board.”

She also touched on Florida's move toward the Common Core State Standards, and the state's school grades model, of which Shanahan has been a fierce critic.

If there's one thing she's learned, she said, “Education is a contact sport in Florida.”

Shanahan said she will continue to be a voice in education.

“If I have comments, I will certainly espouse them,” she said.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart opened her report by noting that Florida improved this year on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In particular, she said, no state outperformed Florida's black students in reading on the NAEP.

The NAEP is a national test and differs from statewide assessments such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment, a test adopted by several states using the Common Core State Standards.

Among the states that scored best on the NAEP, Stewart said there's no pattern to what assessments they're using.

After adopting the Common Core State Standards, Florida had signed on to use the PARCC for measuring student achievement under the new standards. Lawmakers backed out earlier this year in favor of creating a “Florida Plan,” which could mean using a homegrown test that couldn't be compared with other states, as the PARCC could.

The lack of a field-tested assessment, in light of the state's plan to go ahead with full implementation of Common Core next school year, is one reason Volusia County Schools Superintendent Margaret Smith, speaking on behalf of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, asked the board to lengthen its implementation timeline.

The timeline is not realistic, and too much has changed since the Legislature adopted the standards, she said. Teachers are being trained for Common Core at the same time they're expected to deliver, and it's too much pressure.

Smith, with the support of other Florida superintendents, asked for a three-year extension of the timeline, calling it a “pause.”

“Superintendents support a rigorous accountability system,” she said, but it's going to take more time for a “full and quality implementation.”

During a period of gathering public opinion on Florida's English language and math standards, including three open forums, the state Department of Education received 19,000 comments.

The board of education has contracted with an outside firm to condense and analyze the comments. A report will be presented at the board's January meeting.

Stewart said the board can examine what, if any, changes should be made to the standards after the public comments have been analyzed.

Shanahan said she thinks more weight should be given to the opinions of teachers, who are administering the standards and can see firsthand how they're working.

“Parents will be subjective because they should be,” Shanahan said. “Teachers will be objective because that's their role.”

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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