Its not providing adequate credit for the progress that they are able to make with students who are challenging to educate, Pallas said.
Before resigning as education commissioner following a grade-fixing scandal from his former post in Indiana Bennett acknowledged that Florida might want to fine-tune how it determines a schools growth score.
But the Department of Educations director of Accountability and Policy Research, Jane Fletcher, disagrees that Floridas definition of growth favors wealthy schools.
As a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Browards Deerfield Beach Elementary, Rosemarie Jensen remembers teaching students from both well-off homes and from the poorer neighborhood immediately surrounding the school. The children from affluent families were noticeably more comfortable with both reading a book and the simple act of holding a book, Jensen said.
In education research circles, the number of books in the home is viewed as a key predictor of student performance.
Jensen recalls a student who came from a less-stable background, and who every day would run out of energy by the afternoon. Eventually, Jensen found out that no one was putting the boy to bed at night, and so hed stay up late and then go to school exhausted.
Jensen focused on engaging the child as much as possible in the morning, while he was still alert, and she allowed for occasional afternoon naps. On the days when he came to school noticeably hungry, Jensen bought him snacks.
He was actually a really smart little cookie, Jensen said. He was doing very well by the end of the year.
Jensen left teaching to start a family just as former Gov. Jeb Bushs school reforms (including school grades) were taking effect. Broward teachers at the time, she said, were giving each other advice on how to transfer to a safe school one that would avoid the dreaded F grade.
Go west, they said, referring to Browards more-affluent western suburbs, where poverty rates were lower and a better school grade was essentially guaranteed.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who was born in Portugal to a family that he says lived in abject poverty, said its indisputable that children growing up in poor households are more likely to struggle in school than peers from upper-income families. Carvalho complains that Floridas system of grading and funding schools doesnt appropriately consider income.
Just as much as poverty cant be an excuse, the exclusion of poverty as a factor is immoral, he said.
There is much at stake in the letter grade a school receives. Schools with A grades find it easier to attract new students, and teachers are rewarded with performance bonuses. Schools with F grades (or repeated Ds) end up in a fight for their very survival. If student test scores dont improve, teachers and principals may be replaced, and ultimately the school could be closed.
Browards school district closed two failing schools last year Arthur Ashe Middle School and Lauderdale Manors Elementary. The schools were located about a mile apart in the same impoverished section of Fort Lauderdale. Lauderdale Manors was the sixth-poorest out of Browards 288 schools, with roughly 98 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Eligibility for free or reduced lunch varies by family size for a family of four, household income must be less than $43,568.