Florida’s Pre-Kindergarten Program Sees New Standards

Gathering at Miami Edison Senior High School, the Florida Board of Education approved a new standard that's set to raise the bar for the state's pre-kindergarten program. They also discussed several potential policy changes, including the state's application for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements and ongoing challenges in implementing the class-size law, writes Christine Armario for the Associated Press.

Chancellor Michael Grego said Florida is set to be a leader in implementing a more flexible model aimed at improving and rewarding student growth. The application for a waiver is due to the U.S. Department of Education by Nov. 14.

The No Child Left Behind law requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014, but states across the country, including Florida, are far from reaching that goal, writes Armario. Only 10 percent of Florida schools met the targets last school year.

Grego told the board that a waiver is needed to better align federal and state accountability systems and improve student outcomes.

"The waiver would cover measures already under way in Florida, including adopting college- and career-ready standards; supporting effective teaching and leadership, including through new evaluations."

The biggest difference, Grego said, would be using Florida's current accountability system, which gives all schools letter grades and targets low-performing ones for improvements, as the federal model.

"They are looking to Florida to lead this flexibility model," Grego said.

Now education officials must gain the approval of local education leaders. Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Edison, which was in danger of being closed by the state last year, has made improvements but still doesn't meet federal No Child Left Behind standards.

"It is caught between two dichotomous accountability systems," Carvalho said.

Carvalho said he would support eliminating the federal annual yearly progress criteria.

He also said the district, the nation's fourth-largest, had decided not to fully comply with the state's class-size reduction mandate, wch requires no more than 25 students in core high school classes, and smaller sizes in lower grade classes, writes Armario.

Carvalho said that while the district could face a fine upward of $10 million, the return on investment for 100 percent compliance would have "dramatic collateral damage" on education programs.

The new pre-kindergarten learning standards adopted were revised based on current research and address the development of language, cognitive, emotional, social and other basic skills.

The education board is in the process of raising standards across the state's voluntary pre-kindergarten program, including increasing the percentage of students who test as kindergarten ready and taking action against providers who don't meet those benchmarks, writes Armario.

The board also adopted new passing scores for teacher certification in three subject area examinations, including middle and high school social studies.

Additionally, they also agreed on updating the skills required on four subject area certification tests, including for teaching English language learners and middle school math.

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