Public school accountability will not work unless there is confidence in the accuracy of the testing system. This year's delayed FCAT results and potential anomalies have raised enough questions that the state should not release school grades until an audit is complete.
Concerned about sharp drops in fourth- and fifth-graders who are making learning gains, superintendents from Hillsborough and four other school districts have called for a state investigation. They are right to ask for one. The results are too important — and the letter grades assigned to each school matter too much — for there to be any hint of error or questions of fairness and accuracy.
Contractor NCS Pearson, in its first year of administering and grading FCATs, does not have the best track record. It already has been fined $3 million for late results. Because of all of this uncertainty, the state should not release school grades until questions about the accuracy of the FCAT results have been cleared up.
In Hillsborough, the results appear to show that 102 elementary schools had declines in overall learning gains in reading — more than three times as many as the year before. Though he stands by the results, Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith has asked another examiner to look at the concerns outlined in a letter the five districts sent to him. The problem is that the examiner is a subcontractor for Pearson.
It is possible there is an actual dip in test scores, but until an independent investigation is conducted, no one really knows for sure. School letter grades — and the millions of dollars that attach to them — are too important not to be certain.