Miami-Dade school leader pushes state board on school grades

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, pictured at an event last year.
Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, pictured at an event last year. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A fight over standardized testing and school accountability came close to home on Monday, when the Florida Board of Education’s traveled to fertile ground for criticism: Miami-Dade County.

At issue during the board’s monthly meeting was the state’s plan to issue school letter grades based on new state tests given in the Spring.

School superintendents have argued it’s not fair to grade schools this year for two reasons: the computerized versions of the tests were hampered by technical glitches and the move to new exams means half of the normal grading criteria is not available — namely, how much a student improved from one year to the next.

One of the chief critics has been Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who offered fierce pushback to the board on Monday – even calling it “reckless” to issue the grades and warning the state’s school accountability system is “fragile.”

“Sadly, it has lost a lot of the credibility it once had with the public,” he said.

State board members, mostly Gov. Rick Scott appointees, responded that their hands are tied by state law that requires the issuance of school grades. A spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade school district said the governor could take action on the issue by issuing an executive order, which he did last session to force some changes to the state’s testing requirements for students.

But Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended the issuance of school grades, saying student test scores will serve as a baseline year on which to base future school grades.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to have a look at (student) performance,” she said.

The fight over whether to issue school grades is fallout from the state’s recent switch to the Florida Standards Assessment, which replaced the controversial Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. The new computer-based FSAs were hampered by technical glitches and even a cyber attack.

But an independent study of the exams and their bungled debut concluded the scores can still be fairly used to issue A-thorugh-F grades that are a hallmark of the Florida’s school accountability system. So the state intends to do so.

Superintendents across the state have questioned the finding that the scores can be fairly used, given the widespread technical problems. On Monday, Carvalho spoke on behalf of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. He has especially taken issue with the fact this this year’s grades will not factor learning gains.

“Ignoring it, and discounting it, I think is reckless and could have an incredibly powerful impact on the way our accountability system is seen,” Carvalho said.

Not taking into account student learning gains could hurt large, urban districts like Miami-Dade, where more than half of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch due to their family income, and more than 77,000 students are learning English as a second language.

Christina Veiga: 305-376-2029, @cveiga