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Early Learning Reform Bill Gets Positive Marks, But Providers Not Keen On 'A/F' Rating Proposal

Florida's education and business industry are united in support of a bill that changes how the state's voluntary pre-kindergarten providers are rated and overseen. Still even as they support the plan, providers say the bill isn’t quite perfect.

Right now the state’s private voluntary pre-kindergarten providers are overseen by the Office of Early Learning. OEL is an offshoot of the Florida Department of Education and it has its own leader. A measure by Republican Representative Erin Grall would clean up the reporting structure, bringing OEL under DOE.

It’s a consolidation of sorts, one VPK organizations say is a long-time coming. Something else that’s been in the works for a while is a move that takes the VPK Gold Seal accreditation program from under the oversight of the Department of Health, and shifts it to the Florida Department of Education. Gold Seal schools would be eligible for more money from the state.

All of this is good, says Erin Smeltzer, Executive Director of the Association of Early Learning Coalitions. Smeltzer gives Grall's bill positive marks, but she says it's not perfect. A sticking point is a provision in the measure that would rate VPK providers the same way the state rates its public schools: on an "A-F" scale.

“We’ve heard things from providers that it [grading] could cause parent confusion or make providers not want to participate in the program, but as a whole, the bill sponsor has really responded quickly and has worked hard with all the stakeholders to make this bill incredibly meaningful," Smeltzer says. 

The state's current rating system is based on a test students take when they start kindergarten. Providers have long complained this way of doing things is problematic because it’s based on a single test at a single moment in time. Under Grall’s proposal, the new ratings system would be made up of three different measures: One would review interactions between teachers and students, another would look at pre-and post-tests to track whether kids are learning and the third is based on the post-test to determine whether kids are ready for kindergarten. This, says Smeltzer, better captures student performance during a school year, not after:

"I think this transforms a lot of the gaps we saw in the old system," she explains. "[We're] thinking through this in a meaningful way in where we look at what we know to be true as a quality indicator—the interactions, the growth they [students] made regardless of where they started-- and looking at how ready they were when they left the program.”   

Grall notes she’s not done making changes to her bill and Smeltzer expects the A-F" provider rating language may get revamped. 

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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