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Don't issue school grades yet, superintendents urge state

Superintendents across Florida are asking the state Department of Education to hold off on issuing school grades this week, saying they still have concerns about the validity of this year's FCAT scores.

"Simply put, we all need to have confidence in an assessment system that has so many consequences, and at this point, we do not," CEO Bill Montford wrote in a statement from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia said work clearly needs to be done to solidify the formulas used so they will reflect appropriate learning gains for students.

"We're very concerned that the accuracy of the Florida accountability system be maintained as fair and reliable," Elia said. "We're committed to working with DOE to address those issues."

The highly anticipated school grades for the state's elementary and middle schools are due out this afternoon. Grades for high schools will be issued in the fall.

Among other things, the grades determine if a school receives supplemental funding, if a change in principals is necessary and if students can transfer out. Principals also say receiving an F, the so-called scarlet letter, seriously hurts morale.

State Education Commissioner Eric Smith could not be reached for a comment late Thursday. He has expressed confidence in the scores. A news conference announcing this year's grades is scheduled for this afternoon.

Earlier this month, more than half of the state's school districts reported finding statistical anomalies within the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test data.

They believed progress among the lowest-performing fourth- and fifth-graders had not been measured properly, and as a result, the number of elementary schools receiving an A or B would tumble.

Student progress accounts for half of a school grade.

On Wednesday, Smith released a pair of independent audits saying the FCAT scores were accurate, noting that variations in scores fell within historical patterns.

But on Thursday, the superintendents said the audits did not address many of their questions, including:

• Why did progress among struggling elementary school students fall across the state?

• Did content change from year to year?

• Was the right score matched to the right child?

They also took issue with a section of the audit that said districts "raised more questions than a person without inside knowledge could expect to answer'' and suggested the Education Department issue a report of its own.

"Why hasten the release of a report without addressing all issues?" the superintendents wrote. "After all, our communities have waited more than two months for the data that the state purportedly analyzed, through its auditors, in a matter of days."

Florida PTA president Karin Brown said she, too, remained unsettled.

"There are still a lot of questions in my mind," she said late Thursday. "I would ask that the state not use these scores for the school grades."

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.

Don't issue school grades yet, superintendents urge state 08/05/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 11:29pm]
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