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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Still no time frame for Florida school grades

It's the time of summer when Florida school grades usually get reported.

But Department of Education officials tell the Gradebook that they don't have any information as to when the annual ratings will be released. They said department staff are reviewing data and the marks could be out "soon."

Before the state changed its grading and testing system, elementary and middle school grades usually would arrive about a month after the department sent out the test results. High school marks would come later in the fall.

New rules will have all schools' grades distributed at one time, and they're supposed to be out in time for adequate planning.

District leaders across the state are anticipating the reports with caution, noting that many definitions have changed, which could dramatically alter schools' performance. One of the key alterations came in the way the state measures student performance gains.

The updated rules makes it more difficult for a student to demonstrate gains, which will be available for the first time since the adoption of Florida Standards Assessments. In the past, for instance, a student could be said to have shown growth within the lowest performance levels even without a clear path toward proficiency. That is no longer the case.

Students in higher performance levels will have to earn a higher score relative to the year before, unlike in the past when they could simply maintain their level. The new rule on gains states:

(b) "Learning gains" means that the student demonstrates growth from one year to the next year sufficient to meet the criteria below. Learning gains may be demonstrated in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Students may demonstrate learning gains in four (4) different ways.
1. Students who increase at least one (1) achievement level on the statewide standardized assessment in the same subject area.
2. Students who scored below Achievement Level 3 on the statewide standardized assessment in the prior year and who advance from one subcategory within Achievement Level 1 or 2 in the prior year to a higher subcategory in the current year in same subject area. Achievement Level 1 is comprised of three (3) equal subcategories and Achievement Level 2 is comprised of two (2) equal subcategories. Subcategories are determined by dividing the scale of Achievement Level 1 into three (3) equal parts and dividing the scale of Achievement Level 2 into two (2) equal parts. If the scale range cannot be evenly divided into three (3) equal parts for Achievement Level 1 or into two (2) equal parts for Achievement Level 2, no subcategory may be more than one (1) scale score point larger than the other subcategories; the highest subcategories shall be the smallest.
3. Students whose score remained at Achievement Level 3 or 4 on the statewide standardized assessment in the current year and whose scale score is greater in the current year than the prior year in the same subject area. This does not apply to students who scored in a different achievement level in the prior year in the same subject area; and,
4. Students who scored at Achievement Level 5 in the prior year on the statewide standardized assessment and who score in the same Achievement Level in the current year in the same subject area.

For the first time, the rule counts students with test scores of Level 3 or higher among the lowest performing 25 percent. In the past, the lowest quarter would stop at Level 2. And the rule also reduces the total number of points needed to achieve each grade, from A through F.

Many Floridians have criticized the grading system as an inadequate and unfair way to hold schools accountable for student learning. They have said too much emphasis is placed on test scores.

On the other hand, others have looked to the model as a way to determine whether students and schools are achieving set academic standards, including among all demographic groups. The school grades have affected property values. State lawmakers have tended toward this position, and have taken no steps to end school grading, which has taken place for more than a decade.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 2:46pm]


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