Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said he will recommend changes to the state’s A through F school grading system by the end of the week.
Bennett met with school superintendents and researchers Monday to gather concerns and suggestions about the school grading system.
Superintendents said they were concerned state requirements had changed too quickly the past two years for students test scores to keep pace.
Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho pointed to Florida Comprehensive Writing Test results as an example. Miami-Dade students scores rose this year, he said, but schools will get less credit according to the school grading formula. That’s because the state raised the target score from a 3 to a 3.5.
That’s difficult to explain to parents and students, Carvalho said.
Carvalho wants no school to drop by more than a letter grade this year — something the State Board of Education approved last year after test scores dropped.
“At stake here is the credibility of the accountability system — we have a chance to fix it,” he said. “Number one: Put in place and continue the one letter grade drop provision.”
Carvalho and other superintendents suggested other changes:
Change how the grading system factors FCAT writing results — Student scores are rising, but not enough to meet the higher state target score. Carvalho would like scores averaged over two years.
Talk more to local officials — Superintendents complained that state education officials do not meet with local school leaders as often to talk about shortcomings with the grading system.
English language learners and special education — The scores of students learning English are included in school grades after one year in district classes. Likewise, students in special education centers are also included. Superintendents, particularly Carvalho, said those expectations are unreasonable. Changing that might require challenging federal rules tied to Florida’s waiver from No Child Left Behind rules.
Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and Carvalho both said their district data specialists have found what seems to be an unexplained glitch in the formula. Test scores are not matching projected grades, Elia said.
The superintendents also noted that schools are now emphasizing the transition to new common standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. However, school grades and teacher evaluations are still tied to FCAT test which will soon be replaced.
Long-term, they said, the grading formula must change to emphasize the standards, known as Common Core, and the affiliated tests.
Bennett was sensitive to the perception that he and superintendents were changing the grading system to hide low-performing schools.
“What I heard last year when I read about the decisions that were made was that, in retrospect, Florida changed their standards to keep so many of their schools from being ‘F’s,” Bennett said. “Nobody’s going to be able to say that this year because that hasn’t been part of the discussion.”
Bennett said he will recommend changes in the next 48 to 72 hours and that the State Board of Education could vote on them in mid-July.