Would Florida's proposed grading rule make it easier for schools to get an A?
Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart's school grading simulation showed the state would see a similar distribution of A through F marks for 2015 as it saw in 2014.
That simple fact led some observers to question how that could be, given the state's tests and standards were supposed to be more difficult. Since the numbers were based upon Stewart's proposeal for test cut scores and revisions to school grading rules, the reason had to come from the details.
Her cut score recommendations hadn't changed, and they were higher than in the past. So the factor likely lay within the rule.
Some time between the initial rollout of the revision and this week's updated version, after hundreds of public comments, the department added language that would lower the percentage of points needed for schools to receive each grade. In 2014, for example, elementary and middle schools had to make 65 percent of the maximum grading points to earn an A.
Under the new rule proposal, schools would need to tally 62 percent of the total available points.
The new rule would reduce the percentage of points needed at each level, to the extent that an F grade would mean a school received 31 percent or fewer points. In 2014, a school had to get 49 percent of the points or more to avoid an F. Here's the full total breakdown:
(d) Procedures for Calculating School Grades.
1. A school letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F shall be calculated based on the percentage of possible points earned by each school for the components applicable to the school. In the calculation of a school's grade, 100 points are available for each component with sufficient data, with one (1) point earned for each percentage of students meeting the criteria for the component. The points earned for each component shall be expressed as whole numbers by rounding the percentages. Percentages with a value of .5 or greater will be rounded up to the nearest whole number, and percentages with a value of less than .5 will be rounded down to the nearest whole number.
2. The school's grade is determined by summing the points earned for each component and dividing this sum by the total number of available points for all components with sufficient data. The percentage resulting from this calculation shall be expressed as a whole number using the rounding convention described in this subparagraph.
3. Letter grades shall be assigned to schools based on the percentage of total applicable points earned as follows:
a. Sixty-two (62) percent of total applicable points or higher equals a letter grade of A;
b. Fifty-four (54) to sixty-one (61) percent of total applicable points equals a letter grade of B;
c. Forty-one (41) to fifty-three (53) percent of total applicable points equals a letter grade of C;
d. Thirty-two (32) to forty (40) percent of total applicable points equals a letter grade of D; and
e. Thirty-one (31) percent of total applicable points or less equals a letter grade of F.
Speculation is rising that State Board of Education members, who have consistently pushed for higher standards, could balk at that change.
Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Collins said she understood why, at first glance, it might appear that the grade levels are being eased. But she added that department leaders took away other parts of the old school grading rule that had made grading easier in other ways.
For instance, the rule would eliminate all safety nets, which protected schools from dropping more than one letter grade in a year regardless of their performance. It also got rid of bonus points, as well as factors that led to automatic grade drops.
And don't forget the higher cut scores make it more difficult to earn the points, Collins said.
"We still believe the rigor is there," she said.