Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Success comes with a caution


OUR OPINION: Celebrate students’ high scores; don’t penalize them under new rules

Students in Miami-Dade and Broward counties hit it out of the park, academically speaking. Not only were there no F schools in South Florida, there were hardly any C and D schools, either. A and B schools mostly ruled, even among several inner-city schools that had been plagued by low test scores and school grades in past years. Where 78 percent of schools statewide earned an A or B, 92 percent of Broward schools did so — 86 percent in Miami-Dade.

This is the result of the hard work, commitment and, often, creative thinking shown by students, teachers, administrators, parents, superintendents and higher-ed institutions, like Florida International University.

Miami Northwestern High, for instance, earned its first A, shedding the label of “failing inner-city school.” Hialeah-Miami Lakes, just two years ago a D school, earned its first A, as did Dillard High, in Fort Lauderdale, and Deerfield Beach High.

Everyone across South Florida has reason to celebrate, because it says that the region’s students are on track to become the educated adults that will make Florida an attractive place to create or bring the high-skilled jobs that it desperately needs if its economy is to become diverse and sustainable.

At this point, it’s up to state education leaders to ensure that students are not callously derailed now that they’ve worked up a head of steam.

The note of caution is required because students across the state did so well that their high marks automatically trigger a tougher grading scale. Expect school grades to drop next year, not only because of higher standards, but also because the new and, in some quarters, controversial Common Core curriculum kicks reading, writing and ’rithmetic up a big notch.

Students will have to show a higher level of critical thinking in both reading and math — a vital component of any well-rounded education. They must develop the ability to look at a problem and determine which formula should be used to solve it or use several tools to solve one problem. They have to leverage information gleaned from a variety of different texts — poems, short stories, journals.

And, of course, they will be assessed. The problem is, according to Miami-Dade Public Schools officials, the assessment tools are still uncertain. What will be measured is still a question mark. What constitutes a passing score for students remains largely unknown. Who’s reading at grade level and who’s not — who knows? In fact, officials say they might not know the assessment tools until February or March.

This much is certain — with a new curriculum in place, any apples-to-oranges comparison of test scores will likely send many schools’ scores plummeting, and with them, morale and good news. This in no way impugns the academic abilities of South Florida students. Rather, tougher standards are one more curve ball being thrown at them, after a string of other seemingly cavalier revisions of how the state determines proficiency.

It would be grossly unfair to penalize the schools that drop one letter grade or more under the new assessment system, threatening some with teacher turnover or closure. State officials should implement the one-letter-grade safety net to keep schools from falling into the “failing” catagory. It’s been done before.

They should hit the “pause” button, examine the test results first, without making students and schools pay for Common Core’s unknowns.

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