Superintendents want grade-level policy continued
By Brandon Larrabee The News Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, FL — Superintendents from across the state pressed Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to consider limiting how much school grades will drop this year during a meeting Monday.
Curbing the possible declines in school scores — which would essentially continue a policy from last year allowing the marks to drop no more than a letter grade at each school — was one of several recommendations the superintendents made during a meeting of a task force Bennett put together at the request of the State Board of Education.
Bennett is set to report his findings back to the board, likely in mid-July, to help limit the fallout when the next round of school report cards is rolled out. Bennett’s predecessor, Gerard Robinson, resigned shortly after a botched release of school grades last year, though Robinson said he was leaving to spend more time with his family.
The superintendents say that some of the data they’re getting back as they do the initial calculations for the report cards seem to be off — but they don’t know why. Part of the problem, they say, is that the state has implemented 13 changes this year alone to the state’s accountability system for schools — making it harder to meet the standards and harder to figure out what’s going wrong.
“If we had just done one or two of these, it might have been digestible,” said Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “But the fact that we’re doing all of this … it has become very traumatic.”
The school chiefs said they don’t want the state to lower its standards per se, but to consider raising them in a more predictable manner. In the mean-time, they said, the state should consider temporarily continuing the policy limiting grade drops and asking a third party to look at the data and figure out what’s wrong.
“It is not because we’re afraid there will be too many Fs,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who also serves as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “The reason for that is because of the uncertainty of the system itself.”
Asked how seriously he was considering recommending a continuation of the temporary limits on grade drops to the board, Bennett was noncommittal, stressing that everything was on table.
“I’m as serious about that as everything else,” he said.
In all, the superintendents say about three dozen changes to the way the state grades schools have been made over the last three years. And as that cycle has intensified, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, one of the mantras of school reform efforts has started to lose its validity.
“When we say that, ‘every time we raise the standards, student performance increases,’ [that] used to be true in the state of Florida,” he said. “Since 2009, it has not”
There are also worries about how any loss of confidence in the testing system by the public and educators could impact the introduction of the “common core standards,” a national set of benchmarks for curriculum.
The superintendents also ex-pressed frustration at the fact that the state hasn’t spent more time trying to educate the public on the possibility that school grades could fall even as students were learning more.
“The canvas is still blank, and when you have a blank canvas, all kinds of people start painting on it,” Carvalho said.