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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview about Florida's school accountability with deputy chancellor Nikolai Vitti



Vitti For years, Florida has tried to explain to the general public how its schools could earn an A grade from the state and then not meet federal No Child Left Behind progress standards. This week, the Florida Department of Education rolled out a new accountability model aimed at merging the two systems into one. Nikolai Vitti, deputy chancellor of school improvement and student achievement, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the new endeavor.

What exactly are you telling us about?

As you know, last year we unveiled differentiated accountability but only as a pilot. And we only included Title I schools that were included in schools in need of improvement status under NCLB and non-Title I D and F schools. So the list of schools will be expanded because we will be including non-Title I A, B and C schools. ...

So you're talking about every school in Florida?

Every school in Florida could be included in differentiated accountability, but that doesn't mean all schools will be in one of the categories, the categories being Prevent I, Prevent II, Correct I, Correct II and Intervene. Because in order to actually go in one of the cells ... you have to have missed AYP for two consecutive years, and many schools don't fit that criteria.

Let's start off with the schools that are going to be appearing on the list for the first time this year. What will be the things that they have to do?

Most of the new schools will be non-Title I A, B and C schools that have missed AYP for two consecutive years. And this is going by to 02-03 when No Child Left Behind began. What will be new for these schools is a required list of support systems and interventions that will have to be applied at the school site among students and subgroups that have not made AYP. So there will be a requirement for additional professional development. There will be requirements around how schools and districts put together their improvement plans to specifically address the subgroups that have not been making AYP. ...

So this is for schools that have not made AYP for two years in a row.

That's right. Going back to 02-03, all schools were given an AYP status. However, as you know, there were only federal sanctions for those that were Title I schools ... Many schools throughout Florida and really throughout the country that are non-Title I schools have not really looked closely at their subgroup performance. And we're trying to change the conversation in the way of work in Florida to target the needs of the subgroups.

We have A schools, and some B schools, overall they're good schools. They provide a good quality of education. But there are particular subgroups, whether they be ESE students, or ELL students, or African American students or Hispanic students that are not performing at the same level as white middle class students. So what we are trying to do is provide some support systems ... to ensure that all students receive the help that they need to reach high standards.

Last year there were 13 schools in Intervene status. How do you determine whether they stay in Intervene this year?

(Of the 13), really we're down to 11. In order to be an Intervene school, you can be an Intervene if you're an F four of six years. ... If you don't meet that criterion, then you go to the next set. First, you have to be a D or an F. If you're a D or an F, then you have to meet three of four criteria. That would be, 65 percent or more of your students are not proficient in reading or math. And when we determine proficiency, we include all students. ... Then when you look at the rate of performance in math and reading, you look at a five-year span. ...

Once you get to those points ... last year they had a whole bunch of things set as a hammer. Does the hammer fall on those schools this year?

There are two schools that did not meet the transitional status. Because we rolled DA out very quickly, there was a recommendation by the commissioner, the superintendents and the State Board of Education that we wanted to allow these Intervene schools to demonstrate improvement. And if they did demonstrate improvement by improving their letter grade by at least one letter grade, they would have an additional year to meet the Exit Intervene criteria.

Of the 12 schools that were in Intervene, 10 of them increased their letter grade by at least one, some of them even by two. So they will have an additional year to meet the Exit Intervene criteria, which is to be at least a C and to move at least one subgroup that did not meet AYP in math to a yes, and one in reading. If they did that, then they exit Intervene and do not have to implement one of the reconstitution options.

Now of the 12 schools 10 in a sense met the transitional stage [one in Leon closed]. Two did not. Those two schools are Edison Senior in Miami-Dade and Middleton High School in Hillsborough. Those two schools will have to now pick one of the four reconstitution options, which are close the school and reassign students, convert to a charter school, contract with a private entity to run the school ... or move to a district-managed turnaround school. ... At this point it looks like they've both picked district-managed turnaround school. ... Their plan will be presented to the State Board in August.

I don't understand what a district-managed turnaround school is.

Once you look at the guidelines, it's pretty clear. A lot of the guidelines are similar to what we have already in the list of requirements for the lowest performing schools. For example, you have to really evaluate whether the principal should be there. You might have to remove the principal. You have to really evaluate the gains in math and reading to ensure that teachers have been effective in math and reading. If not, you would have to reassign the teachers to other schools. You'd have to provide performance pay to administrators and teachers. You'd have to have instructional coaches in math, science and reading. You would have to offer summer professional development for new teachers that are hired. A report need to go to your local school board detailing the progress of your school. You need to have a community board that oversees the work of that school throughout the year. Those are just some of the requirements that are put in place for those schools. ...

If they don't make it again, another year, then what happens?

Then the district managed turnaround school option is eliminated and they have to pick from the three remaining options. Then it's just a process of elimination until you get to the point of closing the school.

How does this affect charter schools?

Charter schools are treated like all the other schools, whether they're Title I or not Title I. ... There is an opportunity for districts to close them if they are chronically low performing. For example, two F's in a row, a number of D's and F's. In effect, the standards are much higher for charter schools. They are in D.A. They are required to implement the same interventions as the regular public schools. But districts have more flexibility with closing charter schools if there is a history of low performance. ...

Why is this something that we wanted to do and that we're doing?

One of the best things about the differentiated accountability is the creation of five regional centers, or offices. ... We recognized in the past the way Florida dealt with low-performing schools focused on monitoring. And we had at least 30 people in the department that were sent out to schools, and some of them didn't have any experience in dealing with low-performing schools. ... Basically they went to schools with a check list. ... But there was no system of support, no assistance.

With differentiated accountability we recognized that we  are increasing the expectations. But when you're looking at low-performing schools, it's necessary to increase expectations but also you need to provide assistance. You don't know what you don't know. It's a cliche, but it's very true. So we created these five regional centers, and each of them is led by a director who has turned around a low-performing school. ... They all have a record of improving schools in tough neighborhoods. ... These teams work hand in hand with the lowest performing schools... They conduct instructional audits at the schools, they surface problems at the schools, and they develop action plans with the district to improve the schools. ...

The other positive point about differentiated accountability is the focus on subgroups. FCAT has been very important in raising the bar of expectation for student achievement and put a spotlight on schools that have not done well. We've known they were struggling schools ... but we really didn't have data to tell us if students were learning. The difficulty with FCAT was that it didn't put a spotlight on subgroups. ... You are now going to have a focus, a very purposeful focus, on the subgroups and how they are performing. ... You'll see the redirection of instruction based on this data which would ensure that all students get are receiving education they deserve.

The other piece that's important to point out ... is that we have had basically two accountability systems in Florida. ... And when you're talking about expectations ... you need consistency and you need coherency. And you have two competing systems, school grades and No Child Left Behind. For teachers and for principals, which one is the focus? Which is more important than the other? 'We're an A school but we haven't made AYP for six years. Are we the quality of school we think we are?' So under differentiated accountability we have merged and streamlined two systems.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:27am]


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