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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What is a D school? What is an F school? What is an A school? Does anyone know?

By Greg Sampson

Florida has released new school grades for the previous school year. What do they mean?

School grades mimic the traditional report card that parents receive for the children. Four times a year, teachers assign grades to the learning of children. Even those grades can be hard to interpret. If a child failed, that is, received an F, why is that? Do they fail on tests and that is the overwhelming factor in the report card grade? Or does the teacher weight homework heavily and the child who refuses to do it will fail regardless of work done in school and test results? Or is it a gifted student who is bored and refuses to do work, but can ace a test if she feels like it? Or does the teacher believe that no child should fail and never assigns a grade lower than a C? Even individual grades must have context to have meaning.

Those school grades: What do they mean?

They are not comparable to previous years. Every year, the State has changed the grading rules until the grades have become meaningless, a result pointed out by the State’s Association of School Superintendents.

For 2015, because of new standards and new tests, learning gains are not part of the formula. This year, learning gains overall and for the bottom 25% will be part of the grade. So if a school rises or drops in their grade, does that mean they performed better or worse? How can anyone tell?

What do these grades mean? Can anyone tell me?

What does it mean when a school’s entire worthiness, it’s justification to exist, relies upon test results of only one reading test, one math test, and a few other selected tests that are not given every year?

Science, for example: Students only take it in their 5th year, 8th year, and 11th year. But it covers the previous years since the last test. Is it a true measure of student learning that they don’t remember in 8th grade what a zygote is because that was in the 6th grade curriculum? If you think so, you don’t understand children and you don’t understand pedagogy (how children learn). Do you remember what a zygote is? And if you don’t, should we go back and close the schools you attended because you had to go to Wikipedia to look it up?

That is how Florida school grades are determined. A few tests. Period. And on that basis, if a school doesn’t measure up, it and all the people working there are threatened with closure and termination of career.

Why do parents love their F schools and resist their closure? Can it be that the teachers care about their children? Those so-called non-performing teachers, who clean their children’s wounds, provide bandages, let them cry upon their clothing although that will mean dry-cleaning bills—those that attend to the whole child because that two-word phrase is not a slogan, not a talking point for the media, but something that defines them?

School grades are meaningless. If you really want to know where the good schools are, there is a simple way to find out. Ask any real estate agent. Schools are important to families moving into a town and real estate agents know where to take their clients so that they can move into the boundaries of the best.

As for me, I repeat my call for accreditation agencies to review schools and issue reports. Florida officials should look at that process and revise it. Only when committees of experienced educators and other stakeholders visit a school, stay for a week, and see what is really going on will we receive an accurate snapshot of how well a particular school is doing.

Once we go that route, we can dump the stupid testing that distorts the learning process.

Until that time, Florida school grades … cow pie bingo, anyone?

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