The state’s plan to transition from the FCAT to a new annual assessment of common core standards won’t come without controversy.
Starting with the 2014-15 school year, Florida will switch to a newly developed Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, appraisal system, but Charlotte County School District officials are questioning whether the timetable is realistic.
“This is a multiple-year phase-in,” said Superintendent Doug Whittaker. “We are just starting to get teachers educated on the common core curriculum. We want them to slow down the implementation so we can do this well.”
Developed as a joint effort among 24 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, PARCC is designed to ensure all students in grades three through 12 study a nationally unified curriculum throughout grade school and are college-ready by the time they graduate. The district already has started phasing the common standards into grades kindergarten through two this year.
“We get kids all the time from other states who have been studying curriculum that doesn’t match up with ours,” said Charlotte School Board member Lee Swift. “They might take a subject in another grade level, or study another area of a course. This way all the kids are on the same page.”
Problems with implementation have arisen.
PARCC must be administered via computer, and a portion of the scoring will be automated. In order for the district to administer the test, it will need to purchase new computers. While Gov. Rick Scott has affirmed that he will maintain the current state budget into next year, the outlook for district revenues, which is levied on property taxes, is still low. Officials don’t see how they can make the numbers work.
“Most school districts don’t have anywhere near the amount of computers required to do the standardized testing needed for (PARCC),” said Swift, who brought the issue to Scott during a recent listening tour. Scott “admitted that was a problem and that he would have to try to find a solution.”
Additionally, PARCC could conflict with Florida’s Class Size Amendment, a citizen-generated amendment to the Florida Constitution that was enacted in 2003 and limits the number of students per classroom. The text of a PARCC how-to manual developed by the National Association of Governors discourages limiting class sizes, stating, “State policies that limit class sizes in all grades hinder district efforts to achieve cost savings and do not produce the gains in student achievement thought to be associated with smaller class sizes.”
The document also encourages districts to move away from accreditation-based teacher pay and adopt a system of performance-based pay. However, the first year of teacher assessments will coincide with the first year students will be taking the new tests.
“I don’t see how that could be a fair assessment,” said Whittaker.
At least four states have opted out of the common core initiative, including Virginia, Texas, South Carolina and Alaska, but doing so may put them at a disadvantage as they may no longer be eligible for federal Race to the Top grants.
In addition, Pearson, the same company that created the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, has a stake in the electronic evaluation tool that will be used in PARCC.
“Pearson is one of the companies that is developing PARCC,” said Swift. “ We need to make sure they create a reliable test.”
Swift said that Pearson also created the Texas version of the FCAT, which had flaws in the formulaic version on the math portion of the test.
“The point is that the same problem could exist in the Florida version of the test,” said Swift. “There have been repeated questions about the reliability and validity of the tests over the last 14 years.”
Despite the struggles, the new assessments have intrigued both parents and teachers. A recent Google report showed that Floridians were more interested in the PARCC system than people from any other state with some 16,783 people from Florida visiting the PARCC website in a one-week period, according to the Florida Department of Education.
“We are excited about the new curriculum and new assessments,” said Whittaker. “We just don’t want to rush into anything.”