What is Common Core, how will Gov. DeSantis' new order change it?

Florida Standards nearly same as Common Core

By Anna Johnson - Digital Journalist

Florida students in kindergarten through 12th grade may soon be taking less tests in their language arts and math classes.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he is determined to remove all "vestiges" of the Common Core program from Florida public schools by 2020. The program was adopted by the state in 2010 and began implementation in schools in 2011.

DeSantis released his proposed budget for the year Friday. Within it is $21.7 billion in education spending, which would increase per-student funding from $101 to $224. About $60 million of the proposed education budget is for school safety and mental health training. It's unclear how the rest of the funding will be divided up to address the removal of Common Core.

As a whole, Common Core rolled out nationwide in 2010. Forty-one states currently implement some form of the program, which is described on the Common Core website as "a set of clear college- and career-ready standards." 

Though Florida officially re-arranged and rebranded Common Core in 2014 as the Florida Standards, many of the same practices and guidelines stayed in place. Both Common Core and the Florida Standards affect mathematics and English language arts courses specifically.

The cornerstones of both the Common Core and Florida Standards are comprehensive exams at the end of courses that are designed to test students' and teachers' merit. The Florida Standards did away with the former statewide Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, known as the FCAT, in favor of new Florida Standards Assessments.

The Florida Standards require every student in third through 10th grade to take some form of FSA exams during every year of schooling. The required tests are:

  • English Language Arts FSA for students in third grade through 10th grade.
  • Mathematics FSA for students in third grade through eighth.
  • Statewide Science Assessment for students in fifth grade though eighth.
  • End-of-Course exams for students taking algebra 1, geometry, biology 1, U.S. history, or civics courses, with the possibility to take multiple exams in one school year.

In some grade levels, the tests determine what classes students can take the following school year. In other grade levels, the consequences are more dire. Students who score within the lowest "levels" of FSA tests can be held back in third grade, and the 10th-grade language arts test determines if students are eligible to graduate from high school. Students who fail tests do have options to take alternate exams or attend summer school.

Students and parents alike have come out in opposition of the high-stakes tests, which many have said are fundamentally the same as those put in place by Common Core. Specifically citing the complaints about testing he heard from parents, DeSantis has vowed to "streamline standardized testing" and improve literacy rates with the new executive order.

Rigorous testing reflects not only onto the students, but also onto their teachers. Public school educators teaching English language arts, math or alegbra I in any of the grades assigned an FSA test receive what are known as value-added model, or VAM, scores based their students' scores.

According to the Florida Department of Education, VAM scores show objectively just how much a teacher contributed to the learning of a student compared to other students in the state and that particular student's testing history. VAM scores can be used in teacher evaluations, and every school's specific VAM testing information is available online.

Officials from the Florida Education Association, which represents over 140,000 education professionals, commended DeSantis on his willingness to work with teachers in the development of the new program.

“A deliberate look at what students must know is always appropriate, and it’s very encouraging to hear that Gov. DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran plan to bring teachers and parents to the table as they go about reshaping Florida’s standards," FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement.

Actual guidelines for schools to follow have yet to be drafted, so it's not yet clear exactly what the new standards will entail. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has been tasked to develop the entirety of the new program by January of next year. 

Many groups praised DeSantis for his proposed testing changes. 

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members released a statement in which it detailed its long-standing issues with the Florida Standards. The education nonprofit included its concerns about if the Florida Standards' requirements are age-appropriate and the program's overall effectiveness.

"Parents and our members cite time spent on testing — as versus on genuine teaching and learning — as one of their top concerns. If all stakeholders are heard, we have confidence that this effort can improve public education in Florida," Ingram said.

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