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A Times Editorial

Rules need to look deeper than letter grade

Accountability in schools is a good concept, but it is bad in practice when it is unpredictable and simplistic. And that's the problem with the new school grading system the state Board of Education will vote on Tuesday.

The board should examine each of Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson's proposals individually. Some have merit. Some make no sense at all.

Among the bad ideas:

• Schools would get an automatic F if they do not have at least 25 percent of their students score as "proficient" in reading on the FCAT 2.0, a tougher version of the old test. A school where students test this poorly on reading certainly has serious problems, but an automatic F does nothing to address them. And by automatically flunking a school, this fails to look at any other subject the school teaches or any programs it has to improve student performance.

• When the learning gains of the lowest-performing 25 percent of students are measured in reading and math, the state would exclude any students who are testing at grade level — even if they are among this lowest quarter of performers. Schools could effectively be penalized for their own success. If nearly all its students are performing at grade level, the scores of only a handful of low-performing students could drag down that portion of the school's grade.

• More special education and students who are learning English would be included in the school grading. The federal government wants Florida to deal with evaluating special needs students and those who are still learning English. But the draconian measures before the state board are certainly not what federal officials are seeking.

Some of the proposals make sense, such as giving schools more points for students who achieve high FCAT scores and relying more on end-of-course exams.

Even without these rule changes, the changes with FCAT 2.0 and the adoption of the federal government's stricter measuring of graduation rates would drop the grades for many schools. Add in the proposed new rules, and the results are laughable. Hillsborough and Pinellas each had two F schools this year. Under the new rules, each would probably have had 18.

A letter grade is a blunt, simplistic measure of a school that collapses complicated formulas into one letter that shames some schools unnecessarily and makes others feel prouder than they should.

Before the Board of Education approves of these changes, it should listen to the school superintendents, teachers, students and parents who will have to live with them. They all have ideas on accountability and should be heard, in the hope of making a skewed system more sensible.

No one opposes accountability. But are these rule changes an honest attempt to reasonably measure a school's performance? Or is it more about the politics of public schools and simplistic letter grades?

Rules need to look deeper than letter grade 02/26/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 26, 2012 3:30am]
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