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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Florida's agenda isn’t about improving public schools but simply destroying them

From the Miami Herald's editorial board

Pushing the learning bar ever higher for public school students and making schools and educators accountable for their students’ failing grades have been guiding posts in Florida’s education landscape for more than a decade. During that time, Florida has been recognized as a national leader in accountability and tracking student achievement to pinpoint deficiencies so that students’ performance can improve in reading, math and a host of other subjects.

But now Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson is pushing a new set of rules, to be considered by the state Board of Education next Tuesday, that would ignore year to year progress by students (now used to grade schools and districts statewide).

Instead, the state would rush new reading proficiency standards to an all-or-nothing level that virtually guarantees failure with a capital F. Unless at least 25 percent of students score “proficient” in reading on the more rigorous FCAT 2.0, a new version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, a school would get an automatic F.

Worse, still, students with disabilities and those learning English in a year’s time would be counted toward school grades without consideration of the level of disability or, for English-language learners, the vast scientific evidence that shows true proficiency (not just being able to speak a new language) can take from three to five years. Nor would any achievements by students in other subjects be counted toward “progress.”

The so-called proficiency “F trigger” would hit hardest those students in urban schools that have made great inroads, particularly in Miami-Dade, where Superintendent Alberto Carvalho moved new administrators and teachers into struggling schools and set a new tone of achievement to produce results.

Consider that Northwestern Senior High went from failing to a B last year because students improved in a number of areas, not just reading. Miami Jackson raised its D status to an A. But the reading trigger would, at the snap of one state bureaucrat’s fingers, turn Northwestern, Jackson, Miami Norland, Miami Edison, Central City, Miami Carol City and Booker T. Washington senior high schools into failures.

State education officials say those estimates are just estimates, and don’t worry, be happy. Not so.

The requirements for learning-disabled students are particularly Machiavellian. Under the state’s proposed rules, the grades of sick or disabled children taught at special centers would be applied to the traditional school those students would be attending were they not so disabled or sick that they need special attention. Imagine penalizing a neighborhood school with a grade for a student who has not been taught by a teacher at that school. Why?

End-of-year course exams, which are a welcome addition to the accountability measures, also would be subject to a bizarre way of measuring a school’s performance. The state would count “progress” by comparing FCAT scores from the previous year to new end-of-year exams. Because these year-end tests are new, they need at least two consecutive years to check for progress.

We support accountability measures and an ever-higher bar for achievement, but the way these proposals have been crafted — without input from superintendents, teachers and other stakeholders — there is rising suspicion that the agenda isn’t about improving public schools but simply destroying them.

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