Hyslop, who helped create an accountability system for Virginia’s early-education system, suggested that if Florida and other states follow a “mend it, don’t end it” philosophy, they might look at ideas such as grading schools on individual components rather than giving them a single mark.
“Maybe we’ve tried to oversimplify the system,” she said, “and not painted a fair picture of what’s going on.”
That has been the position of the critics, both in Florida and outside. Even some Florida educators who had been supportive in the past are now saying they don’t accept state grades as meaningful.
“I’m going to own our data,” said Katie Lail, principal of Pasco Elementary School in Pasco County. “Whatever the state wants to put as a grade, I’m not going to own that. I’m just not. Because every year it’s different.”
But Patricia Levesque, who helped create the A-F grading model and now runs former Gov. Jeb Bush’s two education foundations, said the dust-up in Florida doesn’t mean the whole concept should be tossed.
“This just shows how powerful the A-F system is,” Levesque said. “The fact that the label means something to parents means that it is going to be subject to scrutiny.”
States like Virginia are paying close attention.
“We are watching Florida and we are afraid,” said Steven Staples, executive director of the Virginia superintendents association. “We often tell our lawmakers that if they look at states like Florida, they’ll realize this is not a path we should be on.”
Virginia lawmakers approved an A-F grading system earlier this year. The bill was signed into law despite strong opposition from groups like Staples’ and a close vote in the Senate.
Staples said superintendents in Virginia have been emailing articles from Florida newspapers to one another. The Democratic lawmakers who tried to fight the measure have taken note, too.
Sen. John Miller, a Newport News Democrat, said he hoped Virginia education officials would learn from Florida’s follies when crafting their formula and put a premium on transparency.
Virginia hopes to award its first grades by October 2014.
Education officials in Maine, however, are undeterred by concerns in Florida.
“We’ve seen on Twitter and online the coverage of what’s been going on in other states, but we’re full steam ahead,” education department spokeswoman Samantha Warren said.
Maine issued its first school report cards this spring.
Warren said Maine hoped to avoid some of the problems experienced in states like Florida by keeping its grading formula simple. The formula for grading high schools, she said, considers only proficiency, growth and graduation rates.
“The simplicity helps us with credibility in light of some of the questions being raised in other states,” Warren said.
Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she hoped Florida would find a workable solution in this needed conversation.
She reiterated her support for a system that lets educators know what they’re doing well and poorly.
“It doesn’t bother me that we do it,” Elia said of grading. “It just needs to be done correctly.”
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at email@example.com, 813-909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.