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Commissioner's Updates on Upcoming Transition Plans

Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart spoke today before the Senate Education Committee to present updates on the Department of Education's proposed transition plans for the 2014-2015 school year.  The state is currently in the process of finalizing and implementing the new Common Core State Standards in the areas of English/Language Arts and Mathematics, and selecting an accompanying new set of statewide assessments to measure student performance on those standards moving forward. 

As part of this transition, the state is also looking at ways to update and improve the school accountability standards ("school grades") and teacher evaluation requirements to make both systems more accurate, understandable and stable through the transition and beyond.

Below are some key updates in each area that the Commissioner presented in her updates.

Standards:

  • State is in the process of finalizing a report based on over public input about the standards collected over the past few months.  To date, the state has received over 1,600 e-mail comments, over 19,000 comments submitted through their website, and heard personally from 115 people during 13 hours of testimony from 3 different public hearings around the state. 
  • The results of this input will form the basis for any recommended changes the department may make to the current Common Core State Standards.
  • Though nothing has been confirmed or formally recommended yet, and public input is still being solicited, she estimated at this point for the state to identify roughly 40 changes for across all K-12 standards for recommendation.
  • Additional public hearings on any potential rule revisions will be held January 14th, and the State Board of Education will consider the new standards and any recommended rule changes for adoption at their February meeting.

Assessments:

  • Five proposals have been formally received to develop Florida's new statewide assessments that will replace FCAT 2.0 beginning next year. 
  • Review of applications is underway, including a public session this Friday, January 10th, followed by negotiations with eligible applicants once reviews are done.
  • The PARCC consortium is not one of the five applicants under review currently because they did not submit a formal application. However Commissioner Stewart did not fully rule out the possibility of the PARCC assessment still being an option the state could consider if all five formal applicants fail to satisfy the state's requirements.
  • Some of those requirements laid out by the state for the new assessment to meet are that it be able to: 
    • Provide timely and informative reports of results 
    • Include costs in line with current costs 
    • Require testing time that is not significantly different from current assessments
    • And require technology parameters that are defined and can be supported by the state, among other requirements
  • A final decision on the new assessment will be made in March.

School Accountability:

  • Updates presented on plans for supporting and improving the school accountability system through the transition and beyond was presented as their "best thinking" at this point on the decisions that need to be made, but not yet as formal recommendations or final decisions.
  • As part of the transition to a new assessment, the state is considering issuing baseline, "information only" school accountability grades following the first year of the new assessment (2014-2015).  This means that first-time accountability sanctions would not be associated with the 2014-2015 school grades because it will be the first year of new standards and a new test. The results would be used to provide schools and districts with baseline information on how they are performing as measured by the new assessments. Commissioner Stewart emphasized that this would not interrupt current support efforts or requirements for schools already on a turnaround plan prior to 2014-15.  
  • The state is continuing efforts underway to make the school grading formula "simplified" and "more transparent".  This includes potentially re-focusing calculations around three main areas (Achievement, Learning Gains, and Graduation), as well as eliminating as many additional provisions attached to the current formula (such as bonus factors, additional weighting and automatic adjustments) as possible.
  • The state is also considering ways to streamline and accelerate the release of school grades so that beginning after the 2014-2015 year all school grades will be released together in the summer following each academic year.

Teacher Evaluations:

  • This was the area with the least details provided at this point, other than that the state is looking for ways to better align the teacher evaluation system with the new school accountability system through the transition and beyond.
  • At the same time, the state is also considering ways to clarify options available to districts in their own requirements and allowing districts showing success more flexibility in determining some requirements locally.

The issues touched on in today's updates span a variety of topic areas, each intertwined with each other to varying degrees and needing to be much more fully explored over the coming months. 

Keep checking back here over the coming weeks as we will explore some of the options and issues associated with the state's choices in these areas, including a new policy brief to be released in the next week which takes an in-depth look at the state's school accountability grading system and some ideas for improving and modernizing it.

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Jason Rose