As the county’s economic-development partner, The Beacon Council works with companies interested in relocating to Miami-Dade County. The question that employers ask most frequently when scouting a new location is about education. Employers look at accessing talent and having a skilled workforce, but they also look for schools that provide the best opportunities for their own children and the families of their employees.
We recently completed the One Community One Goal Target Industry Strategic Plan that among other things emphasized the need for a world-class education system for workers of the future. The plan stressed the importance of having quality education when growing jobs in the target industries and defined education as the foundation for our future economic success.
Over the last several years, under the leadership of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, our school system has seen major improvements reflected in a variety of standardized tests, such as the FCAT.
But now Florida schools are going to suffer because the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) has rushed to push through untested accountability reforms, which will result in school performance grades that do not accurately reflect school and student performance levels.
After years of steadily improving FCAT results, parents and other stakeholders will likely be shocked and confused when, as predicted by many, school grades actually decrease based on the new, more rigorous and recently revised school grading formula. More than three-quarters into the school year, in fact, after the 2012 FCAT administration had already commenced, Florida raised the bar on its definition of “achievement.” The state included students who in the past, because of disability or lack of language proficiency, had been afforded more time to achieve parity with their grade level peers.
For example, the scores of students who have been learning English for just one year will help to determine schools’ performance grades. Both common sense and research suggest that these students’ test scores reflect their knowledge of English rather than their actual mastery of subject area content, knowledge and skills.
The Beacon Council, together with school district leaders and educators, are concerned about the speed in which these changes have occurred. Recently, several school boards and a number of educational organizations around the state have passed resolutions opposing standardized testing.
The new accountability changes may have far-reaching effects, including an impact on an already fragile business sector. Industries looking to relocate may see lower school grades and choose other states over Florida. Young families trying to decide on a community in which to build their futures may take school grades into account and could easily opt for other locations.
I am not against standards and accountability, but as a former teacher I understand that education is more than teaching to a test. Sometimes measurements of student achievement do the students and the community a disservice.
Frank R. Nero is the president and CEO of The Beacon Council, a public-private partnership and economic development agency for Miami-Dade County.