The standards went into effect for kindergarten and first grade classes this school year. Next year, they'll be fully implemented in kindergarten through second grade and partially in effect for third through 12th grade. In 2014-15, they'll be in force for all grades.
Stewart said that unlike the new exams, which are being field tested, there's no need to put the standards through a pilot program because they've been vetted by experts. That includes national teachers union representatives.
The standards are the handiwork of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pearson Foundation have helped fund the effort. The latter is affiliated with British publishing and education giant Pearson PLC, parent of a firm that administers and scores the FCAT under a state contract.
Some lawmakers, meanwhile, are raising questions about how much it's going to cost.
Stewart told a Senate appropriations subcommittee that federal grants will cover expenses for the next budget year, including $134.6 million for teacher professional development and $49.6 million for other aspects of the transition. The state conducted teacher training sessions this summer and will do the same next year.
That may not be enough, Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning recently told the State Board of Education. Browning said he's worried the Department of Education isn't moving quickly and robustly enough to help school districts meet a fast-approaching deadline for full implementation.
The biggest cost is expected to be for replacing the FCAT in 2014-15. Money currently spent on the FCAT would be shifted to the new exams, but state education officials have not yet estimated how much more they may cost.
The tests are being developed by a 23-state consortium known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers. Florida is the partnership's fiscal agent and Bennett is on PARCC's governing board. It has received a $186 million federal "Race to the Top" grant to develop the exams but costs of administering them will be left to the states.
The tests will be more complex but also more realistic, for example asking students to read a series of passages and draw conclusions instead of simply answering multiple choice questions.
"Very seldom in real life am I asked to respond to a multiple choice, but I'm very often asked to respond to something that I've read," Stewart said.