Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

New standards don’t make the grade


OUR OPINION: State’s latest grading measures will penalize schools, students unfairly

Too many students are being set up to think they are failures by the very people who say they are pushing students to excel. Their teachers will see their hard work in front of the class undercut. And parents will think, wrongly, that their children are attending substandard schools.

In a state system that rewards high-scoring schools with more money and penalizes lower-performing schools by withholding funds, the new state standards will do damage not just to institutions of learning. The quality of schools is a large factor in home values. An “A” school that plummets to a “C” will ding values throughout a neighborhood.

Florida wants its students to perform ever better on standardized tests such as the FCAT — a laudable goal. But for the past few years, it has taken a wrongheaded approach.

The state has continually fiddled with the school-grading formula, making more than a dozen changes this year alone. The grading standards have been changed midstream, and it stands to demoralize teachers and students — even if students have tested better than the previous year — and send horrified parents in search of educational alternatives.

Unfortunately, Florida continues to tamper with the school grading formula, despite the objections of district superintendents, teachers and parent groups.

FCAT writing standards have increased from 3 to 3.5. However, accountability measures will compare last year’s percent of students scoring 3 and above to this year’s percent of students scoring 3.5 and above. This likely will result in a significant loss of points for schools, even when the percent of students scoring 3.5 when comparing 2012 to 2013 increased substantially. Those changes will mean that though students performed better, schools that received performance grades of C last year may be facing F grades this year.

This is patently unfair, an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of many schools’ progress.

Plus, the timing could not be worse. Curricula across the state, and in states across the country, are about to shift again. When Common Core is ushered in next year, students will be introduced to another new set of measures designed to impart consistent standards and skills to prepare them for college, and to better compete in a global workplace.

There is still a sliver of hope that education officials can be talked back from this ledge. An 11-member advisory group, which includes Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, will meet Monday, to begin a review of the state’s accountability system and recommend changes before school grades are issued this summer. The state Department of Education and the Florida Association for District School Superintendents created the task force.

Education officials should scrap the provision that factors the scores of students at alternative centers and specialized exceptional education centers into the scores at their would-be neighborhood school. These centers serve students with intense learning disabilities and need special help. Foisting low scores onto schools that the students didn’t attend is clearly unfair.

It’s just as egregious as expecting English Language Learners, those students whose native language is not English, to take state exams — and pass them — at the same proficiency levels as native speakers after having only one year of English instruction.

There’s still time to reconsider these onerous changes, and retract them.

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