Florida replaces Common Core with new B.E.S.T. standards to improve learning in classrooms

The+new+B.E.S.T.+standards+curriculum+will+have+an+increased+emphasis+on+classic+literature+to+improve+reading+skills.+Photo+by+Rayne+Welser

The new B.E.S.T. standards curriculum will have an increased emphasis on classic literature to improve reading skills. Photo by Rayne Welser

Ivy Lam, Editor-in-Chief

In the upcoming years, from now until 2023, new standards will be implemented to improve Florida’s educational system. These include changes in math and reading regulations, which will be added throughout the span of the next school year.

In February 2020, the State Board of Education officially adopted the Benchmark for Excellent Student Thinking, acronymed B.E.S.T. In collaboration with over 80 Florida-based teachers and stakeholder groups, the new standards are expected to create a more clear and concise curriculum.

These new changes captured the attention of staff and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. With various adjustments in curriculum, affected teachers will have to gradually modify their lessons over the next couple of years.

“Personally, I do like the new standards,” Paula Hicks, ELA Instructional Support Specialist and English teacher, said. “I think that, once teachers have the ability to review the new standards, they will see the benefits of the switch.”

The B.E.S.T. program will assess students through short standardized tests. It will also focus more on national standardized testing, like the SAT and ACT. However, the English language arts and mathematics department are the main targets of this new initiative.

“The most important changes that will be made within the reading department is having standards pertaining to foundations for secondary learners: fluency, phonics and analysis and phonological awareness,” reading coach Gabriela Prochilo said.

The B.E.S.T. standards are primarily broken down into four main strands for English, consisting of foundations, reading, communication and vocabulary. All these components will be centered on improving reading skills with an emphasis on classic literature.

B.E.S.T. will provide educators with a vertical progression chart starting from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. This will help students track their own learning and help teachers incorporate all the necessary concepts into their classrooms.

“I think if our educators present these new standards in an effective, exciting way, the student body will adapt to them,” Prochilo said. “These standards are supposed to help our student body become successful lifelong learners and that is always our goal.”

In regard to math, the new standards are broken down into three categories: simplicity, practicality and specificity. Examinations will no longer deduct points as long as the answer is correct, placing less stress on mastering multiple strategies. Additionally, skills and concepts will be more balanced in an attempt to keep struggling students from falling behind.

“The real determination as to how successful our students will be with the new standards will depend on the teachers,” David Shelley, District Curriculum Supervisor for Secondary English Language Arts, said. “As teachers go more in depth with instruction based on the standards, education can and will change for the better.”

Since 2010, the Common Core State Standards have been implemented nationwide, with 41 states implementing the curriculum in their classrooms. Although Florida rebranded Common Core in 2014 as the Florida Standards, the guidelines remained the same. These rules affected mathematics and English language arts courses, implementing comprehensive exams at the end of the year to test both students and teachers.

The Florida Standards Assessments eventually replaced the FCAT, or Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, during the 2014-2015 school year. With the FSAs, many students faced rigorous testing that could result in dire consequences, such as being held back, ineligible to graduate high school or forced to attend summer school.

The stressful environment prompted by these standards led to many questioning whether or not the requirements were age-appropriate or effective in the long run. These concerns were the foundation behind Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s executive order in 2020 to remove Common Core.

“There is always an adjustment period when new standards are introduced, a learning curve for teachers who have to reexamine what is being asked of students to master by the end of the course, and how that content will show up on the [end-of-course exams],” Assistant Principal Anna Koltunova said.

Presently, the district is in the process of developing a series of webinars and workshops to familiarize teachers with the new B.E.S.T. standards. New textbooks and materials to match the new standards will also be distributed to Florida schools in the following years. Many of MSD’s online resources, such as NewsELA and Achieve3000, have already made plans to incorporate the new standards in their materials.

While districts are currently familiarizing their educators with the new benchmarks and their significant changes, fully incorporating the B.E.S.T. standards into all schools is a work-in-progress. By 2023, both the ELA and math curriculums are expected to be updated and complete.