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Accuracy Of School Grading Scale In Question As Ed Board Agrees To 'Safety Net'

Florida Department of Education

The state board of education has approved a so-called “safety net” plan preventing school grades from dropping more than one letter this year.  The move is a response to concerns the number of “F” schools will rise as a result of stagnant student scores on state reading and math tests.

In a 4-to-3 vote, the state board of education approved the school grade recommendation made by Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett. Keeping school grades from falling more than a letter is a continuation of a policy began last year as the state transitions to higher learning standards for students, called Common Core. Board member Sally Bradshaw argued against giving schools a break on the grades. She says in adopting the safety net plan, the state is lowering the bar:

“Is it acceptable to tell my high school student or any student that he has an "A" when he really has a "B" or "C"? No one on this call would suggest doing that for a child’s grade. So I don’t understand, commissioner, why we would consider that for schools," Bradshaw said Tuesday during an emergency conference call of the State Board of Education to take up the recommendation.

The approval comes after officials worried stagnant reading and math scores on state exams would lead to many more “F”-rated schools. Board member Kathleen Shanahan says it’s time the state reviews its process for rating schools on an A-F scale. She worries the scale itself has been manipulated to a point where it may no longer be a valid measure of school performance:

 “We’ve overcomplicated the model, and I don’t think it’s a statistically relevant model," Shanahan said. "I believe that, with my biochemistry-math background. So my concern is, I am not sure the A-B-C-D-F’s are still as relevant with all the stuff we’ve added to that matrix.”  

Schools labeled as failing are penalized with some form of state intervention or even closure. Florida has made dozens of changes to its assessment system, such as increasing the proficiency level students must meet to be deemed competent in areas including reading, writing and math. It's part of an effort to increase student learning expectations in order to meet national learning goals called the Common Core, by 2015.

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on twitter@HatterLynn

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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