Florida Board of Education alters state grading system amid criticism
The Florida Board of Education on Thursday returned to the subject of how to incorporate English language learners and students with special education needs into the state's school grading system, about three months after asking a task force to explore the issue.
The big concerns at hand centered on whether those students' proficiency results on the FCAT or FAA should be counted in the school grades, rather than their gains, despite their learning difficulties.
The board adopted five recommendations made by commissioner Gerard Robinson, including a rule that no school will drop more than one letter grade this 2011-12 school year to accommodate for the many changes coming into play in the accountability system. Board member John Padget opposed that action.
Even though the other proposals won unanimous support from the board, they did not all go down easily.
Superintendents MaryEllen Elia (Hillsborough) and Alberto Carvalho (Miami-Dade), both members of the board's task force, vehemently opposed a measure that would count special education centers as alternative schools, requiring them to either be graded as schools or have their student test results and gains sent to their "home schools."
Elia called the recommendation "extremely illogical." In a letter to the board, Carvalho said he intended to let the state grade the centers, most likely as F's, and then let the state explain why it would give a school serving students with extreme needs a failing mark. A couple of parent advocates, by contrast, urged the board to adopt the measure noting that serving the needs of those 3,000 students with severe disabilities could create a "loophole" for the state's 400,000 students with lesser disabilities to be shoved aside in the accountability system.
Board members said they did not like having to adopt the recommendation because of the way it would look at the children with severe disabilities. But they said the law hemmed them in, and they would lobby lawmakers to change the law in the future.
Board vice chairman Roberto Martinez also took issue with the department's efforts relating to English language learners. He argued that the proposals to deal with their academic needs were inadequate, and suggested that Robinson did not try hard enough to get federal input into the process.
Several speakers representing the ELL community, including school district officials, said the state needs to look for ways to better incorporate proficiency in learning the English language into the state's accountability system. Because if the students are not proficient in the language, then they cannot truly show what they know on the FCAT. They urged the board to take further actions in this area.
Board members said they will continue to explore these accountability issues going forward. A "no" now doesn't mean "no" forever, Robinson added.