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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Florida's school grades are a sham, a must read!

This may be the best education piece I have read this year. -cpg

From the Tallahassee Democrat, by Paul Flemming

Tony Bennett, Florida’s education commissioner, got run out of his job for secret nefarious doings while he was in Indiana, not the public nefarious doings he led on the job here. The aims of both were the same: To cook the school-grades books to limit political embarrassment.
I come not to praise Tony Bennett, nor to bury him. Rather, I’m here to insist that Florida’s third education commissioner in three years and his ham-handed shenanigans in Indiana and officially sanctioned mischief in Florida are merely sideshows to the baseline problem.
To wit: School grades are a sham.
Standardized testing is awful. Education accountability is little more than an appeal to our worst emotional responses and a surrogate battle between liberals and conservatives, business interests and organized labor, with kids in the crossfire.
In July, for the second year in a row, Florida’s State Board of Education agreed to soften the blow of more stringent standardized-test grading. No school would be allowed to drop more than a single grade.
Nothing sums up the board’s agreement as well as the repeated argument made by Miami-Dade’s Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who said the safety net was required because of the “unanticipated multivariate impacts” of the grade standards.
That cumbersome phrase can better be translated as, “Whoa, my kid’s school got a C!”
That’s true for me. Officially, my son’s school got a B, but it benefited from the unanticipated-multivariate-impact fix sanctioned by the Board of Education and didn’t fall to the C the numbers said it deserved.
While far from an expert, I like to think I know quite a bit about the advantages and pitfalls of the state’s testing and how it all goes into a black box and spits out school and district grades. Even with that knowledge — understanding that should and does result in a healthy skepticism of the whole shebang — I still had the same visceral reaction to that C, the precise response hoped for by the school-accountability crowd, even though I should know better. That is to say: “Put my taxpayer dollars to better use, you lazy teachers and incompetent administrators.”
However, some all-but-arbitrary grade put out by the education-industrial complex does nothing to change my opinion of the teachers who have taught my son, nor how I think about the education he’s getting. I know what kind of education he’s getting. I am the very best judge of that.
Same thing with the district. The Leon County School District is about to get a C. The district’s been given that grade preliminarily, and officials are considering an appeal. Leon fell a couple points short of the threshold for a B district.
Leadership, as you might imagine, is a little touchy. District officials provided a whole raft of figures and assertions to mitigate its C. By compiling a list of statistics and caveats, Leon County Schools are taking the wrong approach. Superintendent Jackie Pons should stick to the strategy he used last year — shoot the FCAT until it’s dead. To argue otherwise is to give credence to a broken system.
Senate President Don Gaetz weighed in, too.
“I don’t think you’re really kidding anybody when you say, ‘Well, we’ve got a C school that really dropped to an F school, but we’re just going to give it a D and hope that everybody sort of figures out that this is a school that’s not done so well,’ ” Gaetz, a former superintendent, said on The Florida Channel. “I think when you get an F, you get an F. When you get an A, you get an A. And I think we ought to be honest with parents.”
Let’s be honest with parents. Try this one on for size. All districts, schools and teachers should tell the truth: Send us better students, well-rested, well-fed and with your full love and support, and our scores will be better. Parents, in reply, could say: Find a way out of crushing poverty and I’ll do my part.
But that’s not something the FCAT can fix.

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