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Monday, December 19, 2011

Florida's education system hurts kids, stay away if you love your kids and are thinking about moving here

From Florida Today

by MacKenzie Ryan

As the state Board of Education meets today to set new passing scores for the FCAT 2.0, local education leaders are warning about the possible consequences of raising the requirements as high as Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson recommends.

“This is going to have a profound impact on our schools, in terms of failure rates, remediation, in how we do business,” Brevard School Board chairwoman Barbara Murray said.

More students could be held back — a state rule calls for third-graders who fail the FCAT reading test to repeat the grade. More students could be placed into mandatory remediation classes, possibly limiting elective courses for high school students. The change also could make it harder for some students to get the scores they need to graduate.

Robinson says that raising the scores needed to pass will help ensure students leave high school college- and career-ready.

“I’m confident that Florida’s students and educators will meet the challenge,” Robinson has said.

If the proposed scores were applied to last year’s tests, more than 15,000 additional high school students statewide would not have scored well enough to graduate.

Deputy Education Commissioner Kris Ellington noted that if students don't pass the exam in the 10th grade, they still have two more years to try. She said the goal is to reduce college remediation rates.

The proposed scores have been opposed by state school superintendents.

Instead, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents endorsed passing scores recommended by two study panels, which still raises the bar. Using their proposed scores, an additional 8,000 high school students statewide would not have earned a high enough FCAT score to graduate.

Both panels were appointed by the Department of Education. They included superintendents, educators from public schools, colleges and universities, business people and the Florida PTA.

Brevard Superintendent Brian Binggeli said the school district is preparing for any changes, which will take effect this year, but that he’s not willing to sacrifice those aspects of school that create well-rounded students.

“We won’t let this do things that aren’t right for kids,” Binggeli said during an interview Friday. “We’re hanging onto things we value, and we value these because they do prepare kids for a 21st century global economy.”

Binggeli also questioned the need to raise the bar, citing an analysis that shows Florida eighth-grade reading standards are second highest in the nation.

In Brevard, about one-fifth of students the state considers below grade level in high school go on to receive an 18 or higher on the ACT, a score most colleges require. Every high school student in the district takes the college-entrance exam.

“I’m pretty proud of our kids,” Binggeli said. “Twenty percent of them are still in intensive reading . . . (and) demonstrated on that test that they have everything needed to be college-ready.”

It’s unclear what the effect of raising the bar would be in Brevard, where nearly every school received an A or B last school year. FCAT scores are the basis of school grades and bonuses.

“I think we’ll rise to the challenge. We’ll figure this out,” said Karen Schafer, Brevard’s director of accountability, testing and evaluation. “But, initially, it’s going to be ugly.”

Creating higher passing scores would make what is expected of students across grade levels more uniform. Right now, the score needed to pass 10th-grade tests expects more of students, comparatively, than scores needed to pass tests in younger grades.

Because of that, Binggeli said students who receive Level 3s throughout elementary and middle school, which is considered on grade level, will often see FCAT results drop to a Level 2 in high school.

Raising the bar in younger grades could mean fewer students pass the test, however.

Last year, about 72 percent of students statewide passed the third-grade reading assessment. Using the proposed score, about 57 percent would have passed.

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