Putting Education Reform To The Test

The Problems With Florida School Data

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Most people have heard about the problems with teacher evaluations or school report cards, but we've found errors in other state data as well.

Wednesday the Florida Department of Education unveiled statewide teacher evaluation data, part of a new law that overhauls how teacher performance is measured in Florida.

The agency held a press conference by phone to discuss the accomplishment.

And then the data quietly disappeared that afternoon.

The agency later admitted that Hillsborough County school officials had noticed that the data stated the district had more employees than is actually the case.

It’s not the first time there’s been problems with state data.

Earlier this year the state issued incorrect school grades after failing to account for a new factor in the school grading formula. The agency later raised the grades for more than 200 schools.

Scores plunged on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test after the state toughened grading standards. The Florida Board of Education addressed the issue by lowering the passing score after public outcry. (That’s not an issue with accuracy, but an admission the scores themselves were the problem.)

And that’s just problems with the high-profile numbers – the one’s school districts go over with a fine toothed comb in order to head off any public relations problems that low test scores or a low district grade can cause.

StateImpact Florida has found problems with other, lower-profile state reports as well.

When we wrote about how often Florida students are secluded in isolation rooms or restrained by school staff, disabilities advocates questioned the accuracy of the data provided by the state.

It turns out the state keeps two sets of seclusion and restraint data. Districts are supposed to the report incidents to both databases, but a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman said many do not and it’s likely neither set of data is completely accurate.

A state report on bullying included school districts which reported no incidents of bullying. But when we checked with Alachua County schools and some other districts, they admitted the data was not reported correctly.

And the Pinellas County superintendent questioned the accuracy of state absentee data after we reported the district had more students who were chronically absent than any other.

Florida has a national reputation as a leader in tracking data and making it easily available to schools, researchers and the public.

No one party is to blame for the inaccuracies. Sometimes – as with the Alachua bullying data – the districts report incorrect information or had trouble transmitting the data to the state. Sometimes the state Department of Education is the cause.

But once posted to the Florida Department of Education website the numbers are often treated as gospel. Users should not have faith in their accuracy until the figures are verified.


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