Schools
3:34 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Florida's School Grading Formula Allows Districts To Check State's Work

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 2:31 pm

The big news out of Indiana yesterday was that in 2012 then-state superintendent Tony Bennett and staff discussed boosting the grade of a charter school.

Bennett now leads Florida schools and defended the change. The school, Christel House Academy, initially earned a C, but Bennett said Christel House performed as well as other A-rated charter schools.

Florida pioneered the A-through-F grading system for schools as a way to give parents a simple representation of school performance. Former Gov. Jeb Bush has traveled the country pitching the idea to other states.

But Florida, too, has had it’s share of school grade adjustments. Last year and this, the State Board of Education adopted temporary changes to the system which prevented schools from dropping more than one letter grade.

And the system is constantly being tweaked to add or emphasize components of the formula (more on that later).

But It’s far less likely that Florida’s school grading formula could be adjusted to change the results of select schools. That’s because school districts usually come up with similar grades working independently from the state Department of Education.

“We have a good idea what’s coming,” said Hillsborough County schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty. “Sometimes there are surprises…if we see something that’s not right, we’re on the phone with the Department of Education.”

That’s what happened last year when a state calculation error meant 213 elementary and middle school grades were revised upward. Hillsborough was one of a handful of school districts which pointed out the problem.

The school district also noticed problems with state reading test results a few years ago.

“We have enough people who can do some of that work,” Hegarty said.

But critics question whether the the grades — which are supposed to be a simple representation of school performance — accomplish that goal. The formula has been tweaked more than two dozen times in the past two years, including adding new factors, raising target scores and changing the ways some tests are scored.

State Sen. Bill Montford said he would like to see the school grading system revamped in the next few years. Montford also is the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

“We know that there’s too many changes,” Montford said. “Just the fact that you made that many changes in a short period of time erodes the confidence of those who are out there in the system. And most importantly it erodes confidence in the parents and students.”

“When you’ve got that much riding on it you dog-gone sure better have it right.”

Copyright 2013 StateImpact Florida. To see more, visit http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/.