Hoping to quell some opposition to the controversial Common Core State Standards, the state Board of Education on Tuesday opted not to adopt the reading samples associated with the new national benchmarks.
The board also decided against adopting the student writing samples and suggestions on how to structure math classes.
State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said local school systems would still have the option to use the documents, known collectively as the Common Core appendices.
But, she said, “these are not becoming a required list of ancillary materials for districts to have to use.”
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The 5-1 vote to reject the appendices, taken at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott, was among several closely watched decisions made Tuesday.
Board members also voted to extend the school grade “safety net” through the 2014-15 school year. The measure will prevent school grades from dipping more than one letter in any given year during the transition to new standards and tests, which are considered more challenging.
Board member Kathleen Shanahan cast the lone vote against the measure, repeating her concerns that artificial grade inflation would undermine the validity of Florida’s education accountability system.
“Isn’t that sad that we are sitting here voting on something that is going to have no integrity?” she said.
Replied Chairman Gary Chartrand: “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t see any way around it.”
Florida’s public schools are undergoing dramatic changes this year, including the transition to Common Core. The benchmarks were developed by the National Governors Association and approved in 45 states and the District of Columbia, and outline what students should know at each grade level.
The standards do not include reading lists or lesson plans, though the appendices provide some sample texts and assignments.
The Common Core has prompted an intense political battle in Florida, where Tea Party groups have likened the move to a federal takeover of the state education system.
Scott responded to concerns last month by drafting a six-point plan to eliminate federal intrusion in state education policy. Among his suggestions: not adopting the appendices.
Board members followed Scott’s advice Tuesday. Only Shanahan voted against the suggestion, saying the appendices were already in use.
Still, the vote did little to quiet Common Core critics who attended the meeting.
“This is lipstick on a pig,” said Chris Quackenbush, of the grassroots group Stop Common Core Florida. “We still have concerns. The standards are ambiguous gobbledygook. That needs to be addressed.”
Stewart said there could be additional revisions to the Common Core standards once the Education Department finishes soliciting feedback from parents, teachers, business leaders and other stakeholders. She hinted that those changes might include a rebranding of the Common Core standards as the Florida standards, or something similar.
That idea gave Chartrand pause.
“‘Common Core State Standards’ is not a dirty word,” he said. “It’s something people understand. Let’s not back away from it.”
As for the new exams that will accompany the benchmarks, Stewart said the education department was on track to choose a new assessment by March.
Florida was supposed to use exams created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. But last month, Scott directed state education officials to withdraw from the consortium, and instead accept bids from companies interested in creating tests specifically for Florida.
The competitive bidding process is scheduled to begin later this month.
The new exams will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, or FCATS, beginning in 2014-15.
Chartrand suggested that a new school grading system might be needed, too.
“I don’t know what it looks like…” he said. “We have an opportunity to make sure we get that right.”
Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.