Florida schools might deserve a pass on state grades this year, House Speaker Will Weatherford said Friday.
"We know the current grading system has problems," Weatherford said during a visit to a Pasco County charter school. "There is a lack of trust. We have to fix it, and it could take time."
He suggested the Legislature should at least consider imposing a one-year amnesty or hiatus on grades, or at least the "teeth" associated with them, while the state puts its accountability house in order.
His comments come as Florida's school accountability system struggles with credibility problems and uncertainty. Last year's school grades were adjusted amid complaints about their validity. Education standards are being revised. And officials are looking for a new standardized test on which school grades will be based.
Several superintendents have called for a pause in grading schools. But Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart recently told the state Board of Education she did not support that. She planned to reveal her ideas for the system at the board's Feb. 18 meeting.
State Senate President Don Gaetz said Friday he had faith in Stewart to present a model that eliminates the "confusing, elongated, unfair system" currently in place.
"I don't think we need a one-year hiatus," Gaetz said. "I think we ought to have honest grades. And I don't see why we can't have them on an ongoing basis."
Weatherford expressed hope that the commissioner will establish a grading system that is clear and sensible. With the state's academic standards in flux and the next round of tests not yet selected, though, he wanted to leave room for time to make proper changes and get the public on board.
If necessary, a one-year time out could instill confidence in the grades, which even staunch supporters have criticized in recent months, he said.
"That can and should be part of the discussion," Weatherford said, adding that he was not proposing an end to school grades.
Lawmakers have the ability to control the grading system because it is established in state law.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]