Florida Legislative leaders left no wiggle room in last week’s letter to Education Commissioner Tony Bennett: They want Florida to pull out of a multi-state partnership developing a next generation standardized test to (mostly) replace the FCAT.
Florida is not the first state to withdraw from the group, known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. But Florida is the most significant state so far.
That’s because Florida is managing the money for the new test, which is tied to Common Core State Standards fully adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Florida is also a national trendsetter in education policies, such as evaluating teachers based, in part, on test scores and assigning schools and districts A through F letter grades for their performance.
Florida’s potential departure means other states might follow — and whether enough states will remain to allow PARCC to finish its work. PARCC is funded with a $186 million federal grant, which requires at least 15 states remain PARCC members.
“I don’t think any single state is going to make or break the PARCC project,” said Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education and chairman of PARCC. “It doesn’t surprise me that there are states that are questioning their commitment.”
Florida, along with Massachusetts and Louisiana, was one of three states which conceptualized and got PARCC going, Chester said.
Chester said some of the concerns cited by Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford were unfounded. They included:
Testing time — Gaetz and Weatherford said PARCC requires 20 days of testing, but Chester said states get to choose how many days they want to spend testing.
Quick feedback — Gaetz and Weatherford worried test results would not be returned quickly. PARCC testing is divided between two sessions, Chester said, with the second using computerized grading. That means schools will get scores back quickly.
“I think we’re in great shape,” Chester said. “This is a very ambitious and complex undertaking.”
But Florida is just the latest state to signal their dissatisfaction.
Alabama, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have already withdrawn from PARCC. Oklahoma officials have said they can develop a test for less money, while Georgia officials are also concerned about cost.
“I don’t yet think we’re seeing people leaving PARCC in droves,” said Kathleen Porter-Magee, a researcher with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “My assumption is it will be quite low. I assume people will continue to use PARCC.”
Porter-Magee said her perception is that while PARCC has had some issues with management, the sample questions PARCC has released show the consortium is getting the content right.
Common Core opponents said that as more states are unhappy with their test choices, they may reconsider the standards altogether.
“One of the motivators for this whole system was that there was going to be a national standards testing system,” said Whitney Neal, grassroots director for Washington D.C.-based FreedomWorks. “There was going to be these aligned assessments around the country that states could compare each other to to determine their progress. If you pull out of those assessments, what’s the motivator to keep those standards?
Florida has no plan to drop Common Core said Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg. But Legg agreed that Florida needs a new plan now and that schools need to know by the time classes start next month.
He wasn’t worried that withdrawing from PARCC might undermine the project.
“Florida can’t jeopardize itself just because it’s a fiscal agent for PARCC. PARCC has other options,” he said. “We haven’t pulled out of PARCC yet, but there are some serious questions that we’ve outlined.”
Check out this map by Education Week showing the current state of play among the multi-state test consortia.