On Governor Scott’s executive order on Common Core and PARCC: Assessment is where the rubber meets the road

It’s very nice that Governor Scott decided to endorse the adoption of the Common Core standards in math and English language arts that the Florida State Board of Education adopted in 2010.

Now let’s talk about something important – assessment.

Last September, I was a member of the FDOE “reactor panel” that reviewed statewide standardized exams in math and science and made recommendations to the (then-interim) Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart about what the passing scores should be.  That is, we made recommendations regarding what should be considered proficient in those subjects.  A panel of teachers had done so previously.  In several cases, our recommendations were quite different from those of the teachers.  Informed by these recommendations, Commissioner Stewart set the scores that defined proficiency on all of these exams.

The point is that no computer did this and there wasn’t an algorithm that gave single-value answers.  Two groups of human beings – inherently chaotic – made recommendations to another single human being (of whom I’m actually a fan, but still, the Commish is human).  And she picked.

Having Common Core standards that are shared with 45 other states (or whatever the number is) is nice.  But if we don’t share exams with other states, the definitions of proficiency will be set by fallible human beings, untethered by any constraints but blown about by the winds of public opinion.

There aren’t many options.  There is PARCC, which has now been demonized (I have no idea how the PARCC folks made so many powerful Floridians angry – there has to be a story there).  There is Smarter Balanced, which should be disqualified simply on the basis of its name.  The ACT folks presumably have a plan to compete on this.

And of course a private vendor could start over again on a true Florida Plan, built around parameters determined by our own state’s leaders, and which other states would then flock to join, generating enormous profits for both the state and the vendor.  Right?  Sure.

I could minimize the Governor’s actions yesterday as simple pandering.  But it was clearly well coordinated with lots of important people.  Six of the seven SBOE members issued statements in support, as did the Speaker of the Florida House and the President of the Florida Senate.  Even US Secretary of Education Duncan was kind.  So was Patricia Levesque from Jeb Bush’s shop.

It’s still possible this will come out well – that is, that Florida will be a member of a multistate assessment consortium that will provide our K-12 students with the opportunity to compete with some of the nation’s best.

We will see.  And maybe it will be soon.

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