Reconsider the rating system
Florida's prekindergarten advocates have repeatedly called for the state to revise the way it rates the state's Voluntary Pre-K providers, suggesting the existing method doesn't take into account student gains and could penalize schools that serve low-income and minority students who improve vastly but started with no appreciable skills at all.
They might have found an unlikely ally in the Legislature's own auditing wing, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, or OPPAGA. In a recently released analysis, OPPAGA recommends that the state change its pre-k accountability process to be more fair to the schools that serve at-risk children.
"The (rating) methodology has shortcomings and can penalize providers that have overall results that exceed those of providers who are not identified as low performing," the report states. "The methodology also does not assess many providers who serve relatively few children, and could result in sanctions against providers who primarily serve at-risk and minority children."
It notes, for instance, that under the current system, one school that was considered low-performing had 58 percent of students deemed "fully ready" for kindergarten, while another that was received an acceptable rating had just 20 percent of its students deemed "fully ready."
Overall, though, OPPAGA reported that the students who complete the VPK program are generally better prepared for kindergarten than those children who do not.
In its response (attached to the end of the report), the Department of Education acknowledged some of the shortcomings in the system and said it would work to improve them. For instance, it is seeking to create a "good cause exemption" for schools that do not meet the minimum readiness rate for three consecutive years.
(Photo of 2007 VPK graduation from Li'l Camper's Academy in Wesley Chapel)