Florida elementary and middle schools got their state-issued report cards Wednesday.
The grades weren’t good: more Fs and fewer As. But the slide wasn’t as steep as many feared, after the state made massive changes to how schools are graded and how student tests are scored.
Instead of cheering the better-than-expected results, some educators had a more philosophical reaction: What does it all mean, if anything?
Lisa Maxwell, head of the Broward Principals’ and Assistants’ Association, said the school-grade system has become a “numbers game.”
“The standards they create make no sense, and they change on a dime. For the most part, they’re not valuable. They just don’t accurately measure what goes on in the classroom,” she said.
Since 1999, Florida has graded schools. Just like students, schools get a grade from A-F to give parents, teachers and taxpayers an easy way to assess education.
Schools that make an A grade receive extra money from the state, up to $100 a student. Schools that have consistently failing grades can face consequences, such as change in leadership, a for-profit or nonprofit management group, conversion to charter, or even closure.
But the formula to calculate the school grades has grown more complex. (The technical guide is 35 pages long.) This year, the state included more students who are beginners at English, as well as students with disabilities, among other changes. At the same time, a growing tide of parents and educators are frustrated with the focus on testing in schools.
State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said the better-than-expected results bode well for preparing students for college and moving to national education standards.
“Today’s school grades are moving us in the right direction,” he said.
Statewide, 43 percent of schools received A grades, 9 percent got D’s, and 2 percent — 47 schools — got Fs.
In terms of losing A-rated schools, Miami-Dade schools fared better and Broward worse when compared to the state.
Miami-Dade saw its number of A schools slip 11 percent, compared to the 15 percent decline statewide. Its pool of D-ranked schools grew at a slower pace, about 3 percent, than the state’s 4 percent.
“I’m extremely proud of our students, our teachers and our principals,” said Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho. “Notwithstanding dramatically increased standards and a new exam, they rose to the occasion and managed to outperform the rest of the state.”
Broward County Public Schools, however, lost more A schools — 41 — a decline of about 20 percent. The number of D-ranked schools in Broward grew from 10 to 18.
“I don’t believe our students actually performed any worse than they had. I think our students are doing well. We changed the bar, we changed the cut scores, and we changed the grading methodology,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said.
He said parents still should do their own homework to evaluate a school: Visit the campus and talk to teachers and principals.
“I would not rely strictly on the grade,” he said.
Runcie said his staff is working on an “apples to apples” comparison to determine how schools really did compared to last year.
When Robinson first proposed revamping the school-grade calculation, state simulations indicated the number of F schools would skyrocket.