Goals-Oriented Education vs. Standardized Testing: Clearwater Academy International Comments on Florida Plan for Education Accountability

The Common Core standards have been criticized by Floridians who assert federal overreach, prompting Clearwater Academy International (CAI) to comment on the ongoing debate. CAI has advocated for higher standards for academics, but officials worry that Common Core would fail to improve Florida's education system.

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CLEARWATER, Fla., April 28, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Strong Floridian opposition to the Common Core standards has prompted fierce backlash and even parent-operated websites designed to stop the introduction of Common Core into Florida schools.  Common Core, a set of language arts and math skills that students are expected to master by the end of each grade, is surrounded by criticism from a variety of groups, many of which are against the standards due to concerns of federal overreach, psychological manipulation and data privacy (1)—likely the impetus for the 98 changes and additions to the Common Core standards introduced by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and a group comprised of Florida teachers and subject area experts, based on the public's input.  While Clearwater Academy International (CAI), a Tampa Bay private school, encourages any effort to increase academic standards, the school maintains that the proposed standards fail to present students and teachers with a viable means to achieve what some say are impossibly high standards, in addition to overemphasizing the importance of testing.

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Florida's proposed changes to Common Core include 46 changes to English language arts and mathematics standards, as well as 52 calculus standards.  But the strict standards still encourage what some deem an increasing emphasis on standardized testing, against which many teachers and administrators have spoken out.  In recent years, higher stakes have been attached to tests, and schools have begun to devote more time to test prep, leaving less time and fewer resources for instruction in music, the arts, social studies and physical education; this is especially true for schools with a high proportion of low-income students, who tend to do worse on tests, and whose administrators have to worry more about their performance (2).

Jim Zwers, Executive Director of CAI, says that the proposed system is a one-size-fits-all program which assumes that every student learns at the same rate and requires the same education—this lack of customization fails to provide students with the help they may need to succeed, per Zwers.

"With such a broad assessment, we will be looking at all students through the same lens," said Zwers.  "We would be taking classroom control and creativity out of the hands of the teacher and reducing their work to a number, which could potentially drive talented teachers away from a system which desperately needs them."

In contrast to Common Core, CAI's educational system is designed to teach students subjects based on how they will apply them in life beyond the school walls.  CAI's program consists of a three-track educational system:

  1. College Prep Track:  Much of the academics of this track are set due to college entrance requirements.  This track is heavy on math, science, honors courses and solid SAT preparation, so that an excellent score is achieved.  This path also includes college courses and, ideally, Advanced Placement classes.  The student should also have a specific career in mind.
  2. Career-Oriented Track:  The key aspects of this track are research, study, projects and—most importantly—apprenticeships or internships in the area of one's career goal.  This track may also include college or other outside technical courses.  By starting this in high school, the student is gaining skills and is on his or her way to a career once finished with high school.
  3. Basic Education Track:  The emphasis here is on smooth, rapid progress; it is designed to be a three-year program instead of the traditional four-year program, allowing students with career plans that don't require a college education to graduate early and get started in their career.

Instead of modifying Common Core, Zwers suggests that Florida lawmakers create and adopt a flexible system which emphasizes a goals-oriented approach designed to help students gain the experience needed to reach their personal goals.

"A child's future should not be determined by how well they do on an exam; the focus should be placed on the student, and we must emphasize understanding, instead of memorization, for test-taking purposes," said Zwers. "Working to help each student grow as an individual is the goal—not pushing students through an assembly line designed to make a better workforce."

CAI's curriculum involves college prep and utilizes the educational methodology of Applied Scholastics, a non-profit public benefit corporation that addresses head‑on the problem of illiteracy by making broadly available notable discoveries in the field of education and literacy.

CAI also offers students the opportunity to participate in several extracurricular activities, including, but not limited to, artistic, fine arts and performing arts programs, football, basketball and cheerleading.  Many CAI students are also Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)-trained to be prepared for emergency situations that may arise in their communities—part of CAI's methodology of teaching students to be community-minded and to give back.

For more information about Clearwater Academy International, please visit www.clearwateracademy.org.

About Clearwater Academy International:

Founded in 1984, Clearwater Academy International (CAI), an Applied Scholastics™ school, offers a fresh perspective on education by harnessing the power of its students' goals and directing their education to align with the students' own interests.  CAI's mission is to educate each child to his or her fullest potential and beyond, culminating in an eagerness to take their place in the world and contribute to society in their field(s) of endeavor.  With tailor-made programs, each student becomes a priority.  Students are designed individual courses that best match their own interests and skills, while also addressing any areas that need improvement.  For more information, please visit www.clearwateracademy.org.

1.   Nielsen, Allison.  "Common Core Standards Divide Florida Voters."  Sunshinestatenews.com.  N.p., 10 Apr. 2014.  Web.  11 Apr. 2014.  sunshinestatenews.com/story/common-core-standards-divide-florida-voters.

2.   Phillips, Elizabeth.  "We Need to Talk About the Test."  Nytimes.com.  The New York Times, 09 Apr. 2014.  Web.  10 Apr. 2014.  nytimes.com/2014/04/10/opinion/the-problem-with-the-common-core.html?_r=0.

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