'Improved' high school grades based on apples-to-oranges comparison

Good morning, class! Today we're going to talk about comparison. Can you say that with me? Com-PARE-ih-son. Good!

Look at this red fruit. I bet you know what it is — it is an apple. APP-ull. Goooood!

And this round orange one? You know that one, too. It is an orange. ARR-unge. Goood!

Now, when you hear somebody say that somebody is comparing apples and oranges, that means they are comparing two things that really are not like each other.

A figure of speech such as that is called a metaphor. MET-a-four. (Also, it is a cliche. Clih-SHAY.)

This week, we announced new "grades" for high schools all across Florida. We pretend that a school's entire existence can be summed up with a letter grade, like "A," or "B," or sometimes "C" or "D" or "F".

And guess what? This year's grades were a lot better!

In fact, 71 percent of the schools in Florida got an A or a B. Last year, it was only 41 percent.

Hooray!

All across Florida, people were happy and said it shows we are making progress. Headlines trumpeted it.

"I'm very proud of our students for stepping up to the challenge that was put up by the state of Florida," said the state education commissioner, Eric J. Smith.

The Pinellas County school chief, Julie Janssen, called the new grades "a defining moment in the improvement efforts of our schools."

Now, what does all this have to do with apples and oranges?

Only this:

This year's grades were calculated on a different formula from last year's.

This was the first year that the state used a lot of new factors besides test scores.

Make no mistake: Over time, it will be a good change.

The new formula considers things such as graduation rates, advanced classes and college readiness.

What's more, these new factors are going to get tougher, raising the bar.

So in future years we will have, you know, an apples-to- apples comparison.

But as for this year — nope.

Yet the Florida education establishment has become addicted to constant, giddy announcements about How Much Better We're Doing.

It's like the Beatles song — getting better all the time.

Or for a darker comparison, it's like something out of Orwell, or the old Soviet Union. More production than ever! Five-year plan fulfilled! Grades ever higher!

(Astute readers surely noticed the article in Wednesday's paper that ran next to the one about the higher grades. It said that U.S. 15-year-olds are only average among the world's nations in reading and science, and below average in math.)

The striking thing about declaring 71 percent of Florida high schools to be "A" or "B" schools was how desperately grateful people were to hear it.

Schools erupted in celebration. Students cheered in the hallways. One Hillsborough principal declared that now, "Our kids can begin to believe in themselves."

So handing out lots of A's and B's is inspirational in the short term. But they had better be figuring out how to handle it when the tougher standards kick in and drag some of these grades back down — in other words, when they have to compare apples to apples.

'Improved' high school grades based on apples-to-oranges comparison 12/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 6:37pm]

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