School grades drop
School grades in Florida took a dip this year, with slightly fewer A and B schools and more than double the number of D and F schools, according to data released this morning by the Department of Education. Educators saw it coming, given changes in the school grading formula. But that's not likely to make the news go down any easier.
The number of D schools rose from 122 to 220, while the number of F schools nearly quadrupled, to a record-high 82. Meanwhile, the number of A's actually increased slightly, to 1,472, while the number of B's dropped from 608 to 469.
The drop-off, though projected for more than a year, is likely to be viewed by teachers and parents as another strike against the school accountability system built by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The system, based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and already unpopular, took a huge hit last month when the Department of Education disclosed 200,000 third-grade reading scores in 2006 may have been inflated due to human error.
The department did not use those scores when calculating this year's school grades, which are in part based on student academic growth from one year to the next. It did, though, include several changes that schools knew about in advance, including the addition of FCAT science scores and a penalty that results in the loss of a letter grade for schools where a majority of the lowest-performing students don't show gains in math. Previously, that penalty only came into play with reading scores. The department has tweaked the grading formula several times in the past - and each time, grades dropped the first year, only to rise again after that. "Where we are is exactly where we expected to be," said Education Commission Jeanine Blomberg.
The Department of Education sought to soften the blow last week, when it recommended that the penalty provisions be scrapped for this year's school grades and that last year's formula remain in place. But the Board of Education said no: "We want to make school grades look better" is not a good rationale for an emergency rule change, said board member Roberto Martinez.
In Pinellas, the number of A and B schools dropped a tad, from 78 percent to 76 percent, but the district did not record its first F high school as feared. Meanwhile, in Hillsborough, the number of A schools rose from 45 percent to 50 percent, while the number of D and F schools doubled to 10 percent.
Also released this morning: The ratings of Florida schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The upside: The number of Florida schools making "adequate yearly progress" rose for the first time this year. The downside: 67 percent are still not meeting federal standards.