By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Tampa Bay Times
Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett made few promises Monday after listening to a task force of superintendents push for adjustments that would improve this year’s school grades at the 11th hour.
He said all ideas were on the table, and he was “open to dialogue.”
But he made clear his discomfort with one of the superintendents’ key requests — that the state continue to protect schools from dropping more than one letter grade in a year. That protection, implemented in 2012, is slated to expire this year.
Bennett suggested during questioning that he thought it would be “misleading” to continue the protection, which was implemented in 2012 and is slated to expire this year.
“If you’re really a D, but you get a C ... This is an issue where I’m kind of struggling,” he told a panel of educators meeting in Tallahassee at the direction of the State Board of Education. “It is not really in the spirit of transparency.”
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho argued that making adjustments is “not at all dishonest.” He said it would acknowledge that the state has made it difficult, if not impossible, to explain the swings in student performance on the FCAT and end-of-course exams.
In recent years, Carvalho and others said, changes such as harder tests and higher passing scores were put in place so fast that teachers and students did not have time to adapt. That caused trauma in the trenches, Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said.
“If we had just done one or two of these, it might have been digestible,” Thomas said. “But the fact that we are doing all of this and more ... it has become traumatic.”
The state needs to have a system that instills confidence in its accountability system amid such concerns and questions, they said.
“It is extremely important we get this right,” Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said.
Bennett and the superintendents agreed that whatever they do needs to fit into a long-term transition to new tests and standards known as the Common Core. The commissioner committed to keeping districts involved in that transition.
The state board directed Bennett to set up the task force after hearing from superintendents last month that the public will question a predicted disconnect between dropping school grades and steady test scores. The latest school grades are expected to be released this month.
Bennett told the group he would consider their advice as he crafts a proposal for the state board. He expected to have a draft by the end of the week, and to ask the board for a vote by July 16.
He also thanked the superintendents for focusing on improving the accountability system, and not looking for ways to pad school grades — something he said was the overwhelming view of what happened a year ago when the state board changed the FCAT writing pass score amid poor student results.