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School Grade Revamp Begins In Senate

A revamp of Florida’s troubled school grading system is now moving through the Legislature after receiving approval from the Senate’s education committee Tuesday.

Florida’s schools are graded on an A-to-F scale. Those grades carry great weight in determinations of state funding, local property values and whether businesses want to open up shop nearby. But Miami Democratic State Senator Dwight Bullard – a social studies teacher himself -- says school grades can’t be counted on the same way other grades are:

“When the health department gives a restaurant an “F” grade, you know not to eat there. When a student gets an “F” grade in school you know a student hasn’t completed the work...So we have a school grading formula that doesn’t speak in the same means that grading falls under in human understanding," Bullard said.

Senate Bill 7060would remove bonus points schools can earn, as well as eliminating automatic triggers that cause a school’s grade to drop. But the de-emphasis on high school grading factors like the number of kids taking the SAT and ACT and enrolling in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses has Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti concerned. He wants the proposed grading system to take MORE factors into consideration for high schools.

“At the end of the day, a university doesn’t look at whether a kid did or didn’t pass an End-of-course exam," Vitti told the committee. "The look at SAT, ACT or PERT. And for kids, poor and minority kids, we see more kids taking the SAT and ACT and being college ready. This is as real as it gets.”

An amendment from Tallahassee Senator and Florida Association of District School Superintendents Head Bill Montford would have put those measures back in place for high schools, but the language didn’t make it into the bill.

The Senate proposal allows a one-year pause on penalties associated with poor performance, even though schools would continue receiving grades. Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt argues districts need more time before the changes go into effect.

“We’re not asking you to delay holding us accountable. We just don’t think there should be an EOC for everything out there.  We can’t do it. We can’t manage it. It’s not going to work the way you think it’s going to work right now.”

The Senate Education Committee did make two changes to the proposal:  One would create a permanent exemption for children with complex disabilities from state testing—a response to recent concerns about the appropriateness of assessing severely disabled children.  The state’s superintendent’s association has called for a three-year transition to a new accountability structure, but lawmakers and officials at the Department of Education have rejected the idea.

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

Follow @HatterLynn

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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