Top Fla. Legislators Call for Withdrawal From Common-Test Group

By Catherine Gewertz — July 17, 2013 2 min read
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Two top Florida lawmakers are calling on state Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett to pull the state out of one of the federally funded consortia that are designing tests for the common core.

In a letter issued today, Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford expressed worries about the amount of time students will have to spend taking tests designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. In the letter, published in the Tampa Bay Times, the lawmakers also worried about districts’ technological readiness for the computer-based tests, the timeliness with which test results will be returned, security of student data, and other things.

It’s no secret that Florida has been considering alternatives to the PARCC suite of tests. Bennett has said he considers it his duty to have a “Plan B” in place in case the PARCC tests don’t take shape in time, or in the form, that the state hopes.

State department of education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said Bennett is not ready to make a decision yet.

“We are looking at what kind of assessment options are out there, but that alone doesn’t mean we’re not going to stay with PARCC,” she said. “It’s something the commissioner has been thinking about for a while.”

At state board meetings, such as this one from May, Bennett has ticked off a list of non-negotiables he seeks from a state testing system. He is weighing the PARCC decision “through that lens,” Etters said.

You’ll notice that in the meeting’s slides, Bennett says Florida continues to support the PARCC work, while also exploring options with ACT, the College Board, and a “small consortium of states.”

Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, the chairman of PARCC’s governing board, told EdWeek’s Andrew Ujifusa that the two Florida lawmakers’ concerns aren’t well grounded. For instance, their concern about indeterminate testing cost will be answered shortly, since PARCC will issue its pricing later this month. Also, their concern about actionable data is unfounded, he said, since PARCC’s suite of tests will produce data at various points in the school year.

Florida’s decision on PARCC participation is likely to prove influential, since it has long wielded outsized influence on key strains of the education debate. It also comes at an important time for the consortium, since PARCC and the other federally funded group of test-designing states, Smarter Balanced, are both working hard on “sustainability” issues—how to stay afloat after their federal funding runs out in the fall of 2014. One of the conditions of their federal grants is a minimum membership of 15 states. Florida’s withdrawal would bring PARCC membership down to 20.

To withdraw formally from a consortium requires a written decision from the governor, schools chief, and the state board president, according to PARCC officials.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.