Florida's top legislative leaders today urged state educators to immediately abandon plans to replace the FCAT with tests from a national consortium and to instead craft "our own Florida plan of assessments."
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, made their recommendation in a letter to Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.
They said the standardized tests being created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (or PARCC) would take up too many days of the school year, would require more computers and bandwith than many campuses have and would not be scored in a "timely" manner.
"We cannot jeopardize fifteen years of education accountability reform by relying on PARCC to define a fundamental component of our accountability system," the lawmakers wrote. "It would be unacceptable to participate in national efforts that may take us backward and erode confidence in our accountability system and our trajectory of continued success."
The PARCC exams are to test Common Core standards in language arts and math. Florida is one of 45 states that adopted the new, tougher academic blueprint for what students should learn in those subjects. The standards are to be in place for the 2014-15 school year.
Bennett has said in recent months that he was not sure PARCC (in which Florida was a leader) was the best option for exams to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. He has said he will recommend within the next month or two whether Florida stick with PARCC -- whose tests would replace FCAT math, reading and writing exams -- or suggest another option.
Those other options, he has said, could include using national exams, such as ACT and SAT, or using tests from another state that is also adopting Common Core.
The Gaetz-Weatherford letter mentioned those options -- but made no mention of Common Core, which has come under criticism nationally by those who argue, among other things, that it is nationalizing education.
Instead, the letter urges the state to craft "our own Florida Plan of assessments for the Next Generation Sunshine Standards," or the state's current academic standards.
Gaetz, in a telephone interview, said he was not suggesting Florida back away from Common Core -- but also said he expected the Legislature would have a "robust debate about standards" during its next session.
He said Florida should adopt tests that would work "no matter what we do with standards."
And PARCC, which is to debut its tests in 2015, isn't a good option because it seems "a not -quite-ready-for-prime-time assessment system," he said.
Weatherford, in a statement, said, " My concern is not with the common sense, Common Core standards. I have great concerns with the assessment associated with Common Core. We need to find a solution that is right for Florida, not Washington, D.C.”
Bennett's office released a statement saying he was thankful for the lawmakers' letter and that "they raise critical issues that deserve serious consideration as I make a decision in the coming days."
He added, "I want to thank them and all lawmakers as we implement Common Core State Standards and improve the future for Florida’s students and our state.”