TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — Florida's new education commissioner wants a backup plan in case the anticipated replacement for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, fails to materialize or is delayed.
The State Board of Education also received a letter from Gov. Rick Scott pitching his proposal to give all teachers a $2,500 pay raise. At least one member, though, said she'd prefer to see raises awarded on merit rather than across the board.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett told the board that within the next couple months he'll present a contingency plan in case the FCAT replacement is sidelined or delayed by problems that have begun to emerge.
"That is a risk, which is why I believe it's always good management to have a Plan B," said Bennett, the former Indiana superintendent of public instruction, at his first board meeting Monday in Orlando. "This is not your normal, standard adoption activity."
The new test is being developed by a 23-state consortium known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges or Careers, or PARCC. The new test is being designed in conjunction with the adoption of Common Core State Standards by Florida and 44 other states.
Another consortium known as Smarter Balance is developing an exam geared more toward instructional purposes than accountability such as grading schools and evaluating teacher performance, the focus of PARCC.
Florida's goal is to have the new standards and tests fully in place within the next 18 months, but that schedule may be overly optimistic.
Bennett said there are "complexities" with PARCC including the adoption of a common scoring system and costs. He noted that many states currently spend far less than Florida on testing.
"We're going to get to a point where some states are going to have to take a look and ask 'Will our legislature appropriate the amount of money to assess our children?'" Bennett said.
He said states also may not agree on how high to set passing grades. Another issue is whether school districts will have the technology in place to implement the computer-based tests.
The board had requested nearly $500 million in technology funds to gear up for the new test, but Scott included only $100 million in his budget proposal to the Legislature.
"We're going to fall flat on our face when it gets to common core test execution if we don't have the technology platform," board member Kathleen Shanahan said.
She suggested seeking private donations to supplement what Scott has proposed.
Bennett said he'll report to the board next month on how to leverage the money Scott has proposed as well as uncommitted federal grant funds to attract additional technology dollars.
In his letter, which Bennett read to the board, the Republican governor defended his break from GOP orthodoxy when it comes to teacher pay. Republicans have in recent years promoted merit pay as opposed to across-the-board raises.
One reason Scott cited for rewarding all teachers is that Florida has earned the highest overall grade from the National Council on Teacher Quality. He also noted that the state already has passed a law requiring performance pay based largely on student test results. That law, though, is being challenged in court by the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union.
Shanahan echoed skepticism expressed by Republican legislative leaders.
"It's great to give teachers more money and I support that on a whole, but I think there has to be some metric because not every teacher is teaching — as all of our data here shows today — teaching every child in a year's growth of time a year's growth of knowledge," Shanahan said.
Senate President Don Gaetz, meanwhile, called Scott's plan "counter intuitive" after he signed the performance pay plan into law in 2011.
The Niceville Republican said it would be an insult to give the same raise "to the teacher who came early, stayed late and never gave up on her students" as a colleague who did none of those things.
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