State education administrators, who are in charge of grading schools and students, failed to follow their own formula.
In fact, they forgot part of it.
The error means 48 schools in South Florida will get higher, revised grades: 31 in Miami-Dade and 17 in Broward.
The mistake has piled more doubt on the state’s accountability system.
“A flawed accountability system that forgets to embed a critical element in its formula ... is an accountability system that needs reform,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho Monday. “And those that lead it need to consider the implications of their actions.”
The state’s accountability system has come under fire by parents who think their children take too many tests; by teachers whose evaluations now depend in part on test scores; and by educators who believe the state has made too many policy changes, too fast. The state Department of Education announced the revision of letter grades at 213 schools statewide —with the most in Miami-Dade — in a news release late Friday night. All had their grade raised one letter grade.
Carvalho joined the chorus of criticism, even though Miami-Dade schools benefited from the correction. “I have lost confidence in an accountability system that is not only ever-changing but fails to accurately depict student learning and the effectiveness of teachers,” he said.
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie was more forgiving, saying it was understandable that the state would have some hiccups when working with a new grading formula.
“The state probably made some errors on this,” Runcie said. “They’ve acknowledged that there was a problem, and they did it fairly quickly ... so I don’t know what else folks want out of that.”
Runcie suggested that the focus should be less on school grades and more on improving learning outcomes for every student —if that happens, he said, higher school grades will take care of themselves.
“No one can argue that we’re not anywhere near where we need to be as a state,” Runcie said.
Among the South Florida schools that got newly minted A’s: Sunrise Middle, Silver Lakes Elementary, Ruben Dario Middle and West Hialeah Gardens Elementary. In all, Broward gained another 11 A-ranked schools; Miami-Dade, an extra 13.
Find a complete list in the database at MiamiHerald.com/Schools.
The grade revision follows other turmoil with the state’s testing system. In May, so many students failed the writing exam that the state Board of Education changed the passing score. In June, the Florida School Boards Association passed a resolution opposing the amount of high-stakes testing in schools.
Student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, drive the school report cards. Schools that make D’s and F’s can face harsh consequences, including the threat of closure or conversion to a charter school.
This year, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson revamped the formula for calculating school grades. In all, more than 30 changes were made.
Among them, the state board decided to give extra credit to students who previously earned a low score on the FCAT, but who learned more than expected during the year. Robinson’s special task force on English language learners and students with disabilities suggested the change, which the board adopted.
“Simply put, if these children somehow demonstrated learning gains — growth — that exceeded that of one full year of instruction, they should get an extra credit, extra points,” said Carvalho, who served on the task force.
But when the state DOE released school grades earlier this month, schools didn’t get credit for all of those gains. At some point after the release, state education administrators reviewed the grades and “found the missing piece of the calculation,” spokeswoman Cheryl Etters wrote in an email. On Friday afternoon, Chancellor of Public Schools Pamela Stewart called superintendents across the state to alert them.
Robinson said in a statement Friday: “While I am pleased that the continuous review process has resulted in better grades, we will continue to look for ways to improve the grade calculation process.
Yaset Fernandez, principal at Jose de Diego Middle, said his students studied extra on Saturdays, during spring break and before and after school.
“It was heart-breaking news to hear that we were a D school,” Fernandez said. “So you can imagine how happy we were on Friday to receive the call that in fact the Department of Ed had made a mistake. And as a former employee of the Department of Ed, it’s a bit embarrassing.”
His school ended up with a C.
Allyn Bernstein recounted how the numbers didn’t make sense when she learned her school, Nautilus Middle, dropped from a B to C. On Friday, she learned her school is back to a B. “We could not understand what went wrong,” she said. “I’m not glad the state made an error, but I’m glad that somebody caught it.”
Carvalho said his staff will review all the data for schools and students to make sure there are no other errors.
In terms of reform, Carvalho said he wants to focus first on students who are learning English and special needs students.
In addition, Carvalho said he was concerned about teachers’ evaluations, which will rely heavily on student data this year.
“When there are so many questions being asked, we have to pause and ensure, before we take the next step, that all the cogs are aligned,” he said.