Sunday, January 21, 2018
Education

Florida ranks school districts using FCAT scores

The Florida Department of Education released a ranking of all 67 school districts Monday, using FCAT scores alone.

Critics immediately slammed it as simplistic and misleading because it does not consider a district's size, demographics or progress, or use other indicators such as graduation rates. The state superintendents association called it a "disservice."

But Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson offered a polite defense, saying the information is still useful to parents, teachers and taxpayers, and will spark more dialogue about how to improve schools.

"Let's put it out there right now to have this kind of conversation," Robinson said.

Pinellas came in at No. 49 and Pasco at No. 34. Hernando tied Hillsborough at No. 38.

The ranking is based on points from the latest Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, which were released last summer and used to determine district grades. The DOE turned them into a ranking and repackaged them with a link that is front and center on the department's website.

Next to each district's rank is the name of the superintendent and the school board chair.

"Ranking school districts by performance allows taxpayers to see their investment in education at work," Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement.

Superintendents lined up to disagree.

"It's not a fair view of how districts are doing," said Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia, whose district was ranked No. 38. She said she would have liked to see how districts compare on other gauges, such as Advanced Placement results, and on subgroups of students, such as those still learning English.

The St. Johns County district, on the outskirts of Jacksonville, was No. 1. Madison County in rural North Florida was No. 67.

St. Johns has the lowest rate of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches in the state (22 percent). Madison has among the highest (78 percent.)

A Tampa Bay Times analysis of district performance, also released Monday, looked at FCAT data over a 10-year period and also considered demographics. It found that some districts that did not rank high on the state list, such as Miami-Dade, have been making more progress than districts with far lower rates of poor and minority students.

The Times analysis is "on point," said Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino looked on the bright side.

"We are delighted to lead the Tampa Bay area in student achievement," she said.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

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