A decade ago, states across the nation adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in an effort to raise the academic bar for their students. This has provoked countless political battles since then—including an especially intense one in Florida. That fight culminated in Governor Ron DeSantis vowing to eliminate and replace the Common Core, and the state’s Department of Education developing—and unveiling in February—new math and English language arts (ELA) standards. Dubbed Florida’s B.E.S.T., which stands for Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, DeSantis claims they're “a model for the rest of the nation.” But is this true?
Authored by Solomon Friedberg, Timothy Shanahan, Francis (Skip) Fennell, Douglas Fisher, and Roger Howe, The State of the Sunshine State’s Standards: The Florida B.E.S.T. Edition evaluates the new standards for rigor, quality, and clarity. These subject-matter experts, who also conducted Fordham’s review of state standards post–Common Core in 2018, used the same criteria to evaluate Florida’s new standards.
The results are disappointing. Each team independently rated both Florida’s B.E.S.T. ELA and math standards as “weak.” That means that reviewers recommend “significant and immediate revisions” and conclude that Florida’s “standards are not suitable until and unless these revisions occur.”
Although the reviewers found several strengths in the state’s new ELA standards—including effective development of the ability to read and interpret literary and informational texts and clear expectations around reading and understanding complex texts—they also found that the standards failed to address important aspects of ELA. For instance, they ignore disciplinary literacy (the specialized ability to read history, science, or technical materials in appropriate and sophisticated ways), the development of the ability to listen and participate in discussions, and the interpretation of multimedia information.
In math, reviewers praise the detailed, topic-by-topic treatment of the subject and the appropriate emphases awarded to major content strands for both the elementary and middle grades. But the standards downplay conceptual understanding relative to procedural fluency, which could lead to students who are ill prepared to transfer what they are able to do into other contexts. The math standards also contained multiple technical errors.
Rather than drawing from Florida’s new B.E.S.T. standards, states looking for exemplar standards on which to model future revisions should look to other states, such as Indiana (for ELA) or Texas (for math) or to smart improvements that Massachusetts and California made several years ago to the Common Core.
Policymakers in Florida should work to improve critical gaps and weaknesses in their new standards as soon as possible. Simply put, these standards are not yet ready for prime time.