Florida Legislators Want Rewrite of Content Standards

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — April 17, 2007 3 min read
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Lawmakers in Florida are setting their sights on revamping the state’s academic standards and expanding its assessment system to include social studies, a subject area that many educators believe has been marginalized under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Measures working their way through both chambers in Tallahassee would require the state board of education to “review and replace the Sunshine State Standards with World Class Education Standards” that would be crafted by a panel of teachers, and to align state tests to the new guidelines. A House bill would also add social studies to the state testing program.

Meanwhile, a Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Don Gaetz, a Republican, also calls for additions to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, to gauge students’ knowledge of history and civics three times during their K-12 careers. Mr. Gaetz has also supported the standards change.

The proposal has received widespread support among lawmakers and teacher groups, according to press reports.

The Sunshine State Standards, which outline what students should know and be able to do in core subjects, were approved by the state school board in 1996.

The House proposal is an outgrowth of an initiative by Speaker of the House Marco Rubio, “The 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.” The first 11 ideas are related to K-12 education in the state, and the first three call for changes to Florida’s standards and assessments.

“In the case of education reform, the speaker talks about making Florida a world-class leader [because] our children need to be able to compete in the international economy,” said Jill Chamberlin, a spokeswoman for Mr. Rubio, a Republican. “With the [current] Sunshine State Standards, which were created quite a few years ago and brought together experts from such a broad field, we ended up with a curriculum that was very broad, not very deep.”

Teachers in Lead

The new standards would outline by grade level the essential content and skills students should know and be able to demonstrate in each subject area.

Florida’s standards received a failing grade in a 2006 review by the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. They have rated poorly in other reviews as well. The new standards would need a seal of approval from “one or more nationally respected foundations, institutes, organizations, or boards with expertise in performance standards for K-12 curricula,” House Bill 7151 states..

An advisory panel of a dozen teachers would be appointed by July to devise the standards, with input from other educators, parents, business leaders, curriculum experts, and citizens. Educators from a variety of disciplines would be consulted on ways to integrate content such as the arts into the core standards.

The panel would submit its report and recommendations on the standards to the governor by the end of the year. By next January, the state board would be required to submit a schedule and plan for implementing the new standards to lawmakers.

Once new standards were adopted, the state education department would provide in-service training for teachers about their content and implementation, as well as on the testing changes.

Few states administer tests in history or other social studies areas, and several have recently dropped exams in those subjects since they are not required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. South Carolina and Washington state, however, have both added mandates for testing in the social sciences in the past several years.

Advocates of improving the teaching of history and social studies say that since schools are not held accountable for what students learn in those subjects, they are often not a priority among teachers and administrators.

In Florida, the detailed House bill also calls for state standards in foreign-language instruction and for school districts to submit plans for developing elementary foreign-language curricula. It recommends that students performing on grade level starting in the 4th grade be offered a variety of options for foreign-language study, including online and other technology-based courses.

The House Policy and Budget Council was set to take up the measure late last week.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Florida Legislators Want Rewrite of Content Standards

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