Concerned that another round of changes to Florida’s testing and school grading formula will paint a dire picture of improving education systems, officials from Miami-Dade and elsewhere on Tuesday are headed to Tampa to urge the State Board of Education to reconsider the way schools are judged.
This year, important letter grades will be based in part on new exams, higher proficiency cut scores in writing, and scores from student groups that weren’t previously considered. In addition, Florida’s safety net last year keeping schools from dropping more than one letter grade is gone.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett has said those tweaks, following a number of changes from the previous year, will improve education around the state. But they’re also expected to cause school letter grades to plummet - unless the State Board of Education reconsiders Tuesday.
“They will have an opportunity to revisit this issue,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Monday. “I have a feeling that they will.”
Miami-Dade students mostly fared well on tests this year, making large gains in reading and writing, and to a lesser extent in math. But district administrators nevertheless expect a drop in grades, which factor into real estate values and teacher bonuses and evaluations. At failing schools, students can transfer.
Carvalho stressed that he supports accountability measures and increasing standards, but said recent changes “are too dramatic, too fast and go too far without an understanding of the true impact.”
That point has been echoed by others, including Florida Association of District School Superintendents President Wally Cox, who earlier this month wrote to Florida Board Chairman Gary Chartrand and asked him to “mitigate” the impact of accountability changes. In his letter, Cox twice used Miami-Dade schools as an example.
“Lower school performance grades will not be the result of lower student performance, but will be caused by changes the state has made, yet again, to the school performance grading formula,” Cox wrote on June 6. “The ever-changing nature of the school performance grading formula and its resulting outcomes continue to confuse the public and further erode trust in the state’s accountability system.”
Cox urged the state to return to last year’s writing cut score of 3.0 and bring back the one-letter-grade-drop safety net, among other considerations. Carvalho has made his own recommendations.
Neither Commissioner Bennett nor members of the Florida Board of Education responded to interview requests.
The debate is reminiscent of last year, when state board members established new accountability standards, including decisions to factor in the test scores of special needs students and students who have been learning English for just one year. Criticisms led the state to convene a task force to craft recommendations, though few were considered.
Also last year, board members held an emergency meeting to lower writing cut scores after too many students failed the test.But just as there are critics of the board’s new grading formula, there are supporters.
Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, has urged Chartrand not to keep “school grades looking good in the name of public perception.”
“Every time we have raised the bar in this state, our schools, teachers and students have met the challenges and more students, especially minority, low-income and disadvantaged students are benefitting,” she wrote.
However, Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said the problem isn’t raising the bar but tweaking an accountability system so often that it becomes too difficult to gauge progress.
“You don’t have to be a math major to know that if you constantly change the baseline you can never judge what has actually been done,” said Blanton, who said he will also be at Tuesday’s meeting. “The standards and tests are constantly changing and it makes it very difficult to measure one year from the next. That’s been our complaint for years now.”
Carvalho on Monday noted that the latest “dramatic” changes come a year before Florida will move to new Common Core standards and a new testing system. He also said the state hasn’t adequately explained to the general community that there will be a dichotomy between improved student and teacher performance and the letter grade assigned to schools.
“This is going to drive schools that would have earned a “C” down to a “D” or “F. From an “A” to a “B” or “C,” he said. “Nobody is going to understand this.”