Charter school moves ahead on new standards

Trevor Ferry, 8, answers a question during a lesson on synonyms and antonyms in his third-grade class at The Villages Charter Elementary School.

The state’s push for educational excellence is bringing curriculum changes to Florida schools, and The Villages Charter Elementary School is leading the charge. Training for the state’s B.E.S.T. Standards (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking) happened over the summer as part of Florida’s efforts to dismantle Common Core and replace it with a more targeted system that provides periodic benchmarks students must hit by the end of their grade level. Florida is among only nine states and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico that have revoked or not adopted the Common Core standards.

Candice Sykes, vice principal of the VCS Primary Center, and Teri Mattson, vice principal of the 4th and 5th Grade Center, attended a state conference over the summer to learn more about the Florida B.E.S.T. Standards.

“The training sessions were amazing,” Sykes said. “We learned a lot.”

Sykes said the curriculum and benchmarks are “more streamlined and fluid.”

The new English Language Arts standards for kindergarten through second grade must be implemented in all state schools this year, and Sykes and Mattson already have passed along the required learning materials to teachers at the elementary school.

The materials include lists of books for teachers to read to students while identifying the story elements students should learn about to reach the benchmarks they need to achieve.

The reading lists include books that focus on civics, an important part of the new standards.

“That has been a major push from the state — to teach students to have more civic-minded instruction,” Sykes said.

Sykes said they will continue to be proactive in preparing teachers for the new curriculum and keeping them informed of the latest developments.

“Teachers are adjusting beautifully, and we’re working with them on a regular basis,” Sykes said. “Kids come first. (The teachers) all come in every day with that mindset.”

The Florida Department of Education and state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have been planning for these changes for a few years under Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Curriculum standards have changed four times since the 1990s, with standardized testing being renamed and reorganized.

On Sept. 14, the governor announced that the days of Florida Statewide Assessment testing also may be numbered.

These spring-administered tests are remnants of Common Core and test students in certain subjects at the end of the school year.

If abolished, the tests would be replaced with the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, which would implement smaller assessments throughout the year that are expected to cut down on testing time by 75%. Florida would be the first state in the nation to implement a statewide progress-monitoring system.

All changes would take effect next school year, pending the passage of state-proposed legislation.

Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or garrett.shiflet@thevillagesmedia.com.