Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Education

Florida issues ranking for every school in the state

First school districts. Now individual schools.

The state Department of Education quietly released more FCAT-based rankings Monday — this time of every elementary, middle and high school in the state.

Following last week's ranking of all 67 school districts, the latest numerical ratings drew the same kind of response: Cheers from the top. Groans from the bottom. And lots of criticism that they're way too simplistic.

"Schools just can't be rated like shampoos," said Andy Ford, president of the statewide teachers union.

The DOE said on its website that the rankings are part of ongoing efforts to give parents, teachers and taxpayers ways to better evaluate their schools.

"It is critical that our students have access to world-class schools," Gov. Rick Scott said in a press release. "Measuring each school's performance helps gauge our progress toward that goal."

The rankings for elementary and middle schools are based on FCAT scores. The rankings for high schools are based on FCAT scores, Advanced Placement scores, graduation rates and other indicators.

Like the district rankings, the school rankings appear to be heavily correlated with poverty. But because information about past performance or demographics is not included, it's not easy to pinpoint which schools are doing better or worse than their demographics might suggest.

In Pinellas, the principals of both top- and bottom-ranked schools had mixed feelings.

St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, a charter school, came in at No. 1 in the district and No. 8 in the state. Its students graduate with high school diplomas and two-year college degrees from St. Petersburg College.

"Are rankings important? Yes, because parents put value in rankings in choosing schools," said principal Starla Metz. "But I don't know that rankings can be entirely fair because I don't know that you can take into account every single factor."

Boca Ciega High ranked last in Pinellas, even though it made the biggest FCAT gains among district high schools last year. Principal Michael Vigue said the rankings are disappointing and potentially misleading, but also motivating.

"We'll keep grinding away," he said.

In Hillsborough, Bevis Elementary was tied for most points among all elementary schools in the state. Yet superintendent MaryEllen Elia went on record just a week ago blasting the measures the state employed to rank districts.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the system was proud to have a top-rated school, but loathe to brag about it because the ranking method was so questionable.

In Pasco, Veterans Elementary in Wesley Chapel was the district's third-highest elementary school and 301st in the state. Principal Donna Busby said she wasn't aware the state planned to rank schools, and had no plans to use the measure to tout hers.

"My job is to focus on the students here and to make sure they're getting the best education possible," Busby said. "We use lots of different kinds of data to make instructional decisions for each individual student and what they need."

Ron Matus can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8873.

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