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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Superintendents fear Florida's new grading rules

From the Tampa Bay Times

by Jeff Solochek

With changes required in statute, the Florida Department of Education reopened its entire school grading formula for revision late in 2011.

The resulting proposed rule, which came after months of discussion and review, is yielding much concern and criticism as the State Board of Education prepares to vote on it this coming Tuesday.

Parents of children with special needs last week began rallying supporters to protest how their kids will be used in the system. Late Thursday, the state's superintendents organization issued a lengthy letter (attached below) listing its members' critique and proposed solutions.

Among the superintendents' many concerns are what they call the "F trigger," in which schools that are making progress but cannot get a set percentage of students to score at Level 3 or higher on FCAT reading would get automatic F grades, and changes to the definition of "learning gains" which would have fewer students showing gains.

These and other proposed changes would lead to a large increase in F schools (more than 260, up from 38), and a corresponding decrease in A schools (less than 1,100, down from more than 1,600). Hillsborough and Pinellas would have seen 18 F schools, including ESE centers, up from two each, while Pasco would have seen four, up from one. See the state's school-by-school simulation, based on last year's FCAT results, attached below.

The growth in F and also D schools is reflected in the Legislature's latest bill, revealed and approved in its first committee Tuesday, that would among other things eliminate the nuance of the six-level state accountability system in favor of an improvement program that focuses solely on D and F schools — all in the name of adopting the state's No Child Left Behind waiver.

The superintendents have asked for some amendments to the proposed grading system, to be fair to the schools that they note are working hard to meet changing goals.

"We have attempted to strike a clear balance between critique and solution, and we are hopeful that the department will reconsider its position and allow for a period of transition to these new standards rather than risk forcing hundreds of schools across the state into needless failure," Orange superintendent Ron Blocker wrote for the group. "Such an action will certainly undo the progress made in recent years, particularly in our most fragile schools and the surrounding communities (that) have rallied in support of educational improvement."

The Miami Herald reports that state board members were divided in their response to such comments.

John Padget, a former Monroe superintendent, told the Herald he supports the new formula, and that it had been "too easy" to receive A's and B's in the past. Board vice chairman Roberto Martinez, a Coral Gables lawyer, was more cautious in his approach.

"I'm trying to figure out whether the individual policy decisions make sense," Martinez told the Gradebook. "The message we need to send out there is we need to look at this very thoughtfully, issue by issue."

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