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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Problems with Florida’s School Grade Formula Cannot Be Fixed

By Greg Sampson 

Perhaps the most pressing issue generating consensus among the attendees at the Clearwater Education Summit is the school grade formula. The consensus: something needs to happen to restore the fairness, accuracy, and credibility of Florida’s School Accountability scheme.

Thus the vision statement from the Department of Education: School grades must be fair, simple, clear, understandable and transparent, based upon student learning outcomes and objective measures. The school grading system should be statistically valid, trustworthy and sustainable. It must accurately reflect school performance and motivate achievement.

They don’t get it. The Department of Education and the State Board of Education have monkeyed around with changing standards, performance levels (known as “cut scores”), and emergency rules that they have lost credibility with educational professionals, parents, and the general public alike.

Even NASCAR, which changes the rules every time they don’t like the results, applies the changes moving forward—to the next race. Florida’s Department of Education, however, along with the State Board of Education, thinks it appropriate to retroactively apply rule changes—grading formula changes—whenever they don’t like the results the formula produces.

When I read the statements on FLDOE’s website, I come across references that vaguely refer to provisions that will reset performance levels upward, thus lowering assigned school grades, if too many schools in a given year make an A or B under the formula.

To state it clearly, they change the rules until they get the results they want.

Do you wonder why teachers feel they are merely grist for the mill?

 The school grading formula is constantly tinkered with to produce two statements of propaganda for the media: one, that Florida’s schools excel because of the politicians and bureaucrats forcing these awful schools to improve (that’s right, they take the credit for the achievement of people who actually work in the schools); two, they have to continue to punish the people who work in the schools because they are the reason schools are failing.

Wait a minute—the schools are outstanding and awful at the same time?

Does anyone still believe these people?

There is the problem. The Clearwater summit assumes that the Department of Education and the State Board can be trusted on this. We have learned they cannot be trusted, even though we do not have a scandal where the grading formula was changed to accommodate a political donor.

Imagine how that would work in the classroom. Teacher Jane Doe changes her grading formula so that Johnny, the star quarterback, no longer has the F he deserves but now passes with a C. When called into the principal’s office, Ms. Doe justifies her grading change because it helped 20 other students also.

Tony Bennett resigned, to the expressed chagrin of our politicians in the State. The logical conclusion is that they own the problem themselves.

Do you still trust them to be able to objectively grade Florida’s schools?

Until the State of Florida outsources its accountability program, which we know as school grades, to an independent organization outside the influence and control of the politicians and bureaucrats, you cannot believe in any school grades they assign.

(Greg Sampson is a DCPS teacher on special assignment as the instructional math coach for his school, which is located on the Westside.)

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