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Beyond the Classroom: What are Florida Standards and why do we have them?

Common Core. Florida Standards. FCAT, FSA…

What are these standards, and why do we have them?

The Florida State Standards, once referred to as Common Core standards, aspire to be rigorous educational goals for primary and secondary school students. They include a set of language arts and math skills that students will be expected to master by the end of each grade, from kindergarten to grade 12. Over the next few months, in most states, the standards (adopted by Florida in 2010), will be fully implemented. However, the Florida Department of Education proposed nearly 100 changes in order to tweak these new “Florida Standards.” These changes included the addition of cursive writing and calculus standards.

So where did these standards come from and why do we have them?

Back in October of 1957, with WWII over and the post war economic boom in full swing, life got easy and we got lazy. Then, while everyone was doing the jitterbug, the Soviet Union put the first satellite, Sputnik, into space. America was shocked to realize it had fallen behind and was no longer the world leader in innovation, science and math. This Sputnik era, as it is referred to, spawned a frenzy of math and science programs to reinvigorate its youth. We woke up, put a man on the moon, made all sorts of discoveries, and retook first place.

Several decades later, akin to Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, American students found themselves enjoying the benefits of their parents’ labors. But in the East, students worked on math and science, learned classical music and devoured books. In a surprise release, an academic score chart revealed that American students significantly lagged behind their international peers. In another Sputnik moment, a set of standards were created to get our lagging students back on the path to success, and provided a means to unify educational standards across the country.

But our society is not standardized. We can ask teachers to teach from these standards, but can we expect all children to tackle a standardized test equally and fairly? As nurse practitioner for most of my professional life, I was a newcomer to the nuances of public education. I thought students left their homes, entered a school building, sat in a class and taught by a teacher, and everyone was happy. Now as a teacher, I see how far from the truth this assumption was. The reality is more like this:

▪ Home. Starting at 6:30 a.m., droves of children leave their homes for school. But from where they leave and the experiences they have already delineate them. Some have parents who are college educated, some have parents who cannot read. Some have newspapers, computers and books in their home, some have none. Some have adults who converse only in a native language, others in English, others in both. Some leave for school with breakfast, some do not. Some have pencils, some do not.

▪ School. Despite the intention of equity, a school often reflects the values of the area from which a student lives. In each school PTAs are different, teachers are different, administration is different. So the school culture is different.

▪ Class and teacher. After the student has arrived, he/she is combined with other students in a room and there is an educator who is responsible for teaching the concepts based upon these standards. Despite the teacher’s educational background and experience and despite the varying cognitive levels of the group, those students must learn what every other class in Florida must learn.

So what is the minimum information that your child needs to be successful? This is where Florida State Standards (FS) come in. Since students come from different homes and backgrounds, attend different schools, with different teachers, the standards are intended to provide a basis for a rigorous level of continuity.

Many people like the FS because they raise the paltry expectations we have asked of our students for years. The FS require our students to think and struggle. The FS also require that teachers prepare more to assure that their students meet this bar of expectations. Having similar standards over the country allows academic mobility — the expectations are the same (minus a few outliers that did not adopt these standards: Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia. Minnesota adopted only the language arts standards).

There are also many people who are against having standards. People fear that education will be taken from a state controlled topic and put into the hands of the federal government. Others speak to the challenge of bringing students from so many different levels of cognitive abilities and diversities to one singular point.

I suggest you visit www.flstandards.org/resources/parents_families.aspx to see all the FS by grade and topic. You will see tips on how to help your child meet these standards and you will understand what your child is expected to know.

I have selected four FS from sixth grade language arts and math as examples.

Language Arts

▪ Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

▪ Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama or poem, including contrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.

▪ Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings.

▪ Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting or plot.

Math

▪ Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities. For example, “The ratio of wings to beaks in the bird house at the zoo was 2:1,

▪ Fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm.

▪ Understand that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level)

▪ Solve real-world problems by graphing points in all four quadrants of the coordinate plane. Include use of coordinates and absolute value to find distances between points with the same first coordinate or the same second coordinate.

On a final note, remember the BIG picture as stated by Ralph Marston: Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.

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