From Common Core, to Florida's next standardized test and changes to high school graduation requirement, education was a top story time and again this year.
Here's a selection of some of our most important, interesting and favorite education stories of 2013.
Click on the headlines to read the full story and listen to the broadcast versions.
Florida’s education commissioner, Pam Stewart, moderated three hearings about the Common Core in Tampa, Davie and Tallahassee. The listening sessions came out of an executive order issued by Gov. Rick Scott. Along with the request for public input, the governor has been distancing Florida from its position as a leader in a consortium to create a Common Core-aligned test.
More than 750 people showed up to the listening sessions. Parents, teachers and activists all took their four minutes at the microphone to tell Florida’s education leaders what they think of the Common Core.
There were impassioned comments from speakers on both sides of the standards—many of whom stayed hours past when the listening sessions were scheduled to end.
The small group of parents hovered over a list of words, deciding where to sort “cloud,” “photosynthesis,” and “google.” They paid particular attention to words indicating facts, evidence or conclusions.
Words such as analyze, convince or insight. Students will use these words to support their conclusions, analysis and opinions.
“This is the key category,” said Hillsborough County reading teacher Jane Mertens, explaining the significance of what she called “Tier 2” words. “This is college and career readiness. This is the vocabulary – that common language of comprehension.”
This is Parent University, and these students are studying new education standards known as Common Core. Florida and 44 other state have fully adopted Common Core standards, which will be used in every Florida grade beginning the fall of 2014.
“All the Spanish I’ve learned I’ve had to learn through school, through work,” says Cece Estrada, a social worker at Immokalee Community School. She grew up in Immokalee, her family migrated with the crops. When they spoke to her in Spanish, she answered in English—and she didn’t grow up bilingual.
“That’s why I encourage it, because now I understand how important it is to be able to have that second language,” says Estrada.
Immokalee Community School is an RCMA charter school serving the largely Mexican and Central American migrant communities in this small, agricultural town in Central Florida. The school is 94% Hispanic, and most of the parents speak Spanish at home.
“We should never see the home language that a student brings to the classroom as some kind of problem that needs to be fixed,” says Robert Linquanti, a researcher and policy advisor with WestEd. “It’s a resource that can be built on.”
Linquanti points out there’s a lot of research showing that speaking more than one language is associated with all sorts of benefits—better multitasking skills, more developed critical thinking, stronger math skills.
Since 2010 the state has made 16 changes to the formula, including adding new test results, increasing target test scores, factoring in high school graduation rates and accelerated coursework and adding scores for students with disabilities or those learning English.
School superintendents worry the formula has been loaded up like a Christmas tree and even supporters on the State Board of Education said they doubt the school grades.
“We’ve overcomplicated the system. I don’t think it’s a statistically relevant model,” board member Kathleen Shanahan said last month when discussing a “safety net” to ameliorate the effect of recent changes on school grades.
Board members say the state’s school grading system will change as Florida switches to new math, English and literacy education standards, fully adopted by 45 states. Those standards take effect in every classroom in 2014 and will require a new test and revisions to the school grading formula. Many of the recent school grading changes were to prepare for the new standards, known as Common Core, which are expected to be more difficult.
A new law says students who entered high school in the past decade and earned Florida’s standard diploma can opt out of the classes. Colleges are telling students to think twice before skipping the refresher courses.
Hillsborough Community College math professor Bob Hervey said the prior state requirements were too rigid. Those rules forced students through a set progression of reading, writing or math courses, often adding several semesters to the time to complete a degree.
The change allows colleges to try new ways to get students up to speed.
“This is freeing us up to experiment with different ideas,” Hervey said. “And I really think students can get through faster, quicker more engaged and be successful.”
Kindergarteners in Katherine Kenton’s class at Tallahassee’s Gilchrist Elementary School are learning to read using the new Common Core standards.
The students have to show they understand what they’re reading.
“The gingerbread man got stuck on the ball.”
“This is where he broke his toe.”
Their teacher says comprehension is the primary focus.
“I added in a gingerbread theme to make it fun for this week and just looked at the standards in designing my lessons and seeing what I needed to focus on,” Kenton said.“I just find that the kids are learning a lot more because I think I’m paying a lot more attention to the details when I look at the standards.”
Sara LaBarbera is a media specialist – in another time they’d be called librarians.
Media specialists have evolved as the world has grown more high-tech.
New education standards, known as Common Core, are set to take effect in 2014 will mean more changes. The standards, known as Common Core, require more reading and ask students to back up their answers with research.
For LaBarbera, that means teaching students research and analysis skills she said she didn’t learn until college. She carries around a handbook on the new standards layered with sticky notes.
“Your role changes to helping the students become information users,” she says, “helping them to see as much information is at their fingertips comes with a great responsibility.”
"As part of the experience, the teachers also toured construction of the Orion spacecraft. Right now, the hull of the capsule is in a clean room on NASA grounds. The teachers got to see engineers in gauzy, full-body protective suits climbing around the capsule—which will eventually be used on manned missions.
For Mary Maddox, a high school science teacher at Terry Parker Senior High School in Jacksonville, seeing the Orion up close got her thinking.
'There is this possibility, as statistically low as it probably is, that maybe one of our students could possibly take this spacecraft to Mars or to the moon, says Maddox."
Florida is one of 45 states to fully adopt the Common Core State Standards, which outline what students are expected to know in math and English at the end of each grade. The standards also put more emphasis on reading and writing in other subjects.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is a test being developed by a multi-state consortium to test how well students are meeting the Common Core State Standards.
We put together a video to how how the new test will be different from the outgoing Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. State leaders are expected to choose a new exam early next year.
While PARCC has since fallen out of favor with Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders, whatever test the state chooses next will likely resemble the changes you see in the video.
The post also includes a chart showing which tests students take in each grade now, and what tests they will take once the switch to Common Core is complete.
caption="Florida Parents Against Common Core protested a national meeting discussing the standards in Orlando last month." credit="Courtesy of Laura Zorc"
Florida is one of 45 states that has adopted new math, English and literacy standards known as Common Core.
A poll last year by the nonprofit group Achieve found just one in five people had heard at least “some” things about Common Core.
Common Core supporters are trying to educate parents about what’s new in the standards and why they will improve schools.
Opponents are trying to halt the new standards before they are used in every state classroom when the school year begins in 2014. They say the standards are no improvement and worry the multi-state project will mean the loss of local control. Others worry Common Core will increase testing and cost more.
Both sides are in a public relations race to reach those who don’t know about the standards first.