Florida School, District Grades Heading Toward A 'Cliff'

Jun 18, 2013

Public education in Florida is heading toward a cliff.

School districts are bracing for a big drop in grades this year, after results from the state’s FCAT and end-of-course exams showed stagnation in key areas of reading and math.

“We’re finding lower-than-expected outcomes that are beyond that which are due to the more challenging writing and science standards.. We’re finding unexplained and large drops in learning gains estimates in our 2013 grades,"  said Hillsboro County School Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia during Tuesday's State Board of Education meeting.

Elia says she expects a 10 percent increase in the number of "F" schools in her district.

The  state board, which oversees public K-12 schools and community and state colleges, has changed the way exams are graded, and even implemented new tests while taking some away.  Miami Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says part of the problem is that there have been too many changes to the scoring system in a very short amount of time:

“Nobody has taken the time to consider the impact of these variables at the same time. When you talk about writing when you go from 3.0 to 3.5, we know what it will do. But when you add writing, to end of course biology, algebra, to a new cut score for reading and math...when you put all of it together, I don’t think anyone has taken the time to examine the implications of the coming together of all these variables," he said.

Educators say the biggest problem this year with the state exams is that the things students are being taught in the classroom aren’t what they’re being graded on.

Florida is raising student expectations to meet new ones called the Common Core. Florida and more than 40 other states have adopted the Common Core standards. The new learning goals are being phased in gradually. But the problem is that Florida still has its old standards in place—and the tests students take are aligned with the old stuff, while many teachers are trying teach the new stuff. The result is a disconnect:

“We have to tell people there is going to be a technical correction. There are going to be a lot more C, D, and F schools, but your kids are learning more. And that’s oxymoronic to a lot of people, they don’t understand that," said Board member Kathleen Shanahan.

And State Education Commissioner Tony Bennett says the “cliff” or the “technical correction” will come in at least two phases:

“There will be another technical correction in the future, and the next technical correction will be the administration of new assessments. That calculation goes far beyond these calculations.”  

The next phase of the “technical correction cliff” will come in the next two years. As the state phases out its FCAT exams it’s trying to phase in new tests that align with the common core. But the new standards, and their tests, won’t be fully in place until 2016, when the next drop is set to occur. The State Board has created a task force to look into whether the state needs to change its system of grading districts and schools. 

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