TAMPA — Some came to passionately bash the new Common Core State Standards; others were there to offer praise.
Florida Department of Education officials left a five-hour public hearing in Tampa on Tuesday equipped with feedback from about 70 people. The meeting was extended to give everyone in the large crowd a chance to speak.
The hearing was the first of three to be held this week across the state and was scheduled after Gov. Rick Scott pulled the state out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a testing consortium tied to the standards. Speakers addressed Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Deputy Chancellor Mary Jane Tappen during the hearing, which was held at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus.
Jennifer Kincaid, reading coach at Hillsborough’s Shields Middle School and a parent, said the new standards address a problem educators have faced for years – to teach students how to think critically.
“We have students read and grapple with complex texts and come to conclusions on their own,” Kincaid said.
The standards also provide consistency from state to state on what students are expected to learn, which Kincaid said she appreciates because her military family has moved many times over the years.
“Every three years, my children were faced with different standards in different states,” she said. “In that transition, they’ve come up short in areas and ahead in others.”
Florida adopted the education standards in 2010, along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia. Common Core is a set of expectations in English language arts and math for students in kindergarten through grade 12.
Supporters say the standards raise the bar for children, help them learn to think critically and equip them with the skills they will need to enter college or a career.
Others say standards are the results of federal overreach, that they are not actually more rigorous than the previous standards or that they will bring about more of a focus on high-stakes testing, among other concerns.
“They are not rigorous,” said Sandra Stotsky, a former associate commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Education, who says Common Core puts more of an emphasis on writing than reading. “They are not internationally benchmarked. They provide no list of recommended authors.”
Retired teacher Nancy Fogle also spoke out against the standards, describing them as a “train wreck.” Fogle said she is concerned that teachers did not help write the standards.
“Delay the implementation so it can be further studied by real educators,” she said. “Common Core will produce mediocrity.”
Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia urged the state, teachers and parents to embrace the standards.
“We don’t always move forward in systematic and thoughtful ways,” she said. “I have been an outspoken critic when that has occurred. In this case, I am acting as an outspoken advocate because it is good for our kids. Our state is moving forward in a smart and thoughtful way. We have to prepare students for after high school, whatever they choose to do.”
Tracie Holman, a reading coach at Adams Middle School, said the more rigorous standards are good for students but said she was worried that the new standards don’t line up with Florida’s current standardized test.
“It does make it difficult for the teachers to make a complete shift to the Common Core when their performance is measured on the FCAT,” Holman said, referring to Florida’s standardized test. “We need a match.”
The department will host a second hearing today in Davie and a third on Thursday in Tallahassee.