Ed Commissioner Stewart Wins Approval On FSA Cut Scores, School Grades

Jan 6, 2016

The State Board of Education has approved a scoring rubric for its new standardized exam. But  some are disappointed the bar isn’t being set higher.

The state transitioned away from the old FCAT test and adopted the Florida Standards Assessment last year. It was designed to align with new, higher standards Florida and dozens of other states had adopted during the past few years. Initial testing was full of flaws. Still, the state pushed forward with its plan to grade schools using the exam. But a big questioned remained: How to do it?

“Where is the level setting, and what’s the bar, you know? I really think they should review that," says Leon County Virtual School Principal Jessica Lowe.

Teachers and administrators have pushed the state to issue  incomplete school grades, but that is  no-go with state education officials and lawmakers. Instead, State  Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is proposing a scaling system that would largely keep school grades where they were before the changeover. Superintendents say they’d prefer not to get grades at all but Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins is supporting Stewart’s plan:

"In the absence of either of those remedies, we believe the commissioners recommendation for school grades is most appropriate for this year," she told the board. "We believe her direction is best for children schools and communities and best for Florida’s economy.”

Others have pushed to make the grading scale tougher and want to align it with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP—also called the nation’s report card. Board member John Padget pushed for a higher bar, saying Stewart’s proposal could be seen as lowering the requirements for high grades. He uses an example based on a 100 point scale.

“I was troubled that until now, to be an A, you had to be 66 or more. Now, to get an A, you have to do 62 or more," he said. Padget voted against Stewart's proposal but the board did adopt it.

That may not be the last word. State lawmakers could weigh in, and the board says it will revisit the grading system later in the year. A new grading system will also come with changes to the report card which shows parents how their child performed on the exam. Commissioner  Stewart calls it a step toward clarifying what the scores represent for academic performance.

“This student score report is much clearer and provides the parent more information about what does this mean? It’s not just a number, but it actually provides information on what does this mean?”   

The new report card explains a student who earns a five has mastered the content, while a level one is described as inadequate. Meanwhile, a three indicates a student may need additional support for the next grade. Some critics claim the design, which outlines the shape of a head with a number in it, could be offensive.