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Superintendent concerned about student testing plans
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Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego gives an update on the state of education in Pinellas County at a Pinellas Education Foundation event Aug. 29. Later, a panel discussion was held on topics such as Common Core’s educational standards.
LARGO – Pinellas School Superintendent Michael Grego said Aug. 29 that student testing is the challenging part of new state educational standards that are under fire.

Grego was speaking at a Pinellas Education Foundation event at the foundation’s headquarters on Starkey Road.

“We need to be concerned,” Grego said. “We cannot test ourselves to excellence.”

Grego and other panel members gave their views on Common Core standards, which were established by the state in 2010 for English, language arts and mathematics.

Florida is in a group of 19 states called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Under consortium’s plan, Florida students would take PARCC assessments in place of the FCAT by the 2014-2015 school year.

Grego said he is a champion of accountability but was skeptical of the 20 days of assessments that PARCC had initially proposed, saying it equates to a full month of assessments on the school calendar.

“So you are going to take too short of a calendar which is 10 months and really should be 11, and take it down to nine … ,” he said.

He also wants to make sure that students are being tested for “the subject content and not the ability to maneuver through a computer test.”

“Is the student knowledgeable about mathematics or is he knowledge about solving a math problem on a computer? Two different things,” Grego said.

Grego, who was appointed superintendent in September 2012 and has held several administrative positions in his 28-year career, received applause from the audience of civic and school leaders as he made his final remarks on the issue.

“Florida needs a sound assessment that works, that is balanced with instruction as we just can’t keep testing ourselves to some kind of glorified state.”

Gus Bilirakis, a Republican U.S. representative of Palm Harbor, also had some concerns about Common Core standards and said he would listen to local school officials.

“I’m worried about too much testing now,” he said.

He said that Common Core is not a national mandate, and Congress passed legislation to make sure the federal government does not force this on our states.

Regarding Common Core as a whole, State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, said he thinks the bottom line for Florida is that the standards described “are what the student should know or learn.”

“They don’t spell out the how for teachers. I think that’s the important part to understand about this set of standards,” Ahern said.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford “said let’s stop and take a longer look at how Florida goes about writing its own set of standards. Again, that’s our prerogative. There’s been no federal mandate for that,” he said.

Gaetz and Weatherford have recommended that the state don’t participate in PARCC’s testing plan that is in conjunction with the new Common Core State Standards.

School Board chairwoman Carol Cook said the district has to reach the standards set by the state, and the board and superintendent will determine curriculum. School Board members had a lot of training in Common Core over the summer, she said.

“So you as citizens have the opportunity to have input through your school board members as well as the employees of the school district will have an opportunities to have input. And how we do it and what we choose as far as books and curriculum, that is still a local decision,” Cook said.

Common Core internationally benchmarked standards define what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should know in English language arts and mathematics. The standards include changes in how teachers teach to help children succeed in the areas that matter most, the Pinellas school district’s website says.

Also on the panel was St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.

The moderator was Gypsy Gallard, publisher of the “Power Broker Magazine,” which targets Blacks in the Tampa Bay Area. Local officials, civic and education leaders attended the event, called the “Superintendent’s Roundtable, State of Education.”
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