Florida’s Education System is Proof that Accountability Works

Diaz: When Gov. Ron DeSantis eradicated Common Core, he implemented a vision for success, coupled with high expectations. Students reap the benefits.

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in 2019, he knew parents, families and educators were concerned about the Common Core. The then-nine-year-old education initiative was supposed to improve achievement by creating academic standards for K-12 students across dozens of states. Instead, an era of rigid test-taking, confusing “crazy math” learning strategies and one-size-fits-all instruction was foisted upon millions of children, all while fears of federal involvement in curriculum simmered to a boil. Before his inaugural month concluded, DeSantis took action.

“Common Core has failed teachers, parents and students,” he declared. But the buck didn’t stop there. Yes, the demoralizing teaching-to-the-test regime was dead and buried thanks to Executive Order 19-32. But that was just the beginning. Because real accountability involves results. 

Fast-forward to today, and Florida is ranked the No. 1 state in education, according to U.S. News and World Report. Florida is also ranked tops in education freedom and parent empowerment, according to separate reports, and we have undertaken the largest expansion of school choice in the nation’s history while breaking our own teacher pay records year after year. Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could slow down student progress, as Florida logged the highest NAEP results in state history in 2022.

What happened? When DeSantis eradicated Common Core, he also implemented a vision for success, coupled with high expectations. He immediately directed Florida’s commissioner of education to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s K-12 academic standards and recommend revisions that would pave the way for students to receive a world-class education and prepare them for jobs of the future. The directive involved a focused return to reading, writing and arithmetic; innovative ways to streamline testing; dramatic increases in the quality of instructional curriculum; high-quality civics education; and a pathway to making Florida the most literate state in the nation. Essentially, the task was to answer the call of parents, families and educators by creating premier state academic standards and including parent and teacher feedback in the process.

What followed was an unprecedented outreach and revision effort that resulted in Florida’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, or B.E.S.T., Standards. More than 100,000 reviews of current and draft standards were conducted; 1,510 combined years of experience from teacher experts were absorbed; 154 virtual and 11 in-person meetings with Florida educational groups were conducted; more than 80 Florida-based teacher and stakeholder groups participated; and 9 public listening meetings were held across the state to gather feedback directly from parents and residents. It was a massive undertaking that culminated in the Florida Board of Education’s adoption of the newly formed B.E.S.T. Standards, followed by generous budget funding and subsequent English Language Arts and mathematics curriculum updates.

“We’ve developed clear and concise expectations for students at every grade level and allow teachers the opportunity to do what they love most — inspire young Floridians to achieve their greatest potential,” said DeSantis, adding, “Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards were made by Florida teachers for Florida students, and I know they will be a model for the rest of the nation.”

With Florida’s new standards in place, the mission moved to assessing results — and to do so without creating a Common Core 2.0 scenario where teachers were once again doomed to teach to the test. We heard over and over again that onerous exam preparation had taken over classrooms, crowded out elective learning opportunities such as music and art, and reduced kids to test-takers rather than blossoming learners. Meanwhile, year-end test results were coming too late to do any good. Imagine discovering what your child needed to improve after — not during — the school year! It made no sense, and we were determined to do better for our 3 million public school students and nearly 200,000 teachers.

The solution was just as bold: the nation’s first full transition to a progress monitoring system known as the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST). It was an honor to sponsor this legislation in the Florida state Senate. Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, students had three short assessment check-ins at the beginning, middle and end of the year, in stark contrast to multi-day, end-of-year, high-stakes tests for English Language Arts and mathematics. Students, teachers and parents benefit from this design by gaining real-time, immediate and actionable data that allows teachers to monitor progress and tailor instruction to each student’s needs.

Year-one results showed substantial growth, including up to 42 percentage points in some subjects. They also demonstrated significant improvements throughout the year in student subgroups, with Hispanics, African Americans and those from economically disadvantaged families all showing double-digit increases in the percentage scoring at or above grade level. Progress monitoring proved a resounding success.

Florida’s improvement in student achievement is a testament to DeSantis’ leadership, and the Florida Department of Education remains committed to strengthening our state’s educational standards, assessing progress and always putting students first. It’s an accountability system that works.

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today