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  1. The Education Gradebook

Romano: State cooks the books on tests. Why ever trust them again?

Published Jan. 10, 2016

Here's what the state Board of Education did this week:

Rescued schools, superintendents and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart from a barrage of outrage that would have surely followed had noticeably low school grades been released.

As a bonus, they managed to undermine the entire accountability system.

Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not criticizing board members. Given the hand they were dealt, I think they made the correct decision.

Unfortunately, they were put in this no-win situation by the continued zealotry of our testing-obsessed leaders in Tallahassee.

What the board essentially did was cook the books. When it became clear that the transition from one set of standardized tests to another had not gone well for either students or schools, the board chose a more lax grading standard.

In other words, they arbitrarily decided there would be half as many F-rated schools as there potentially might have been.

And how is that a bad thing?

Look at it this way:

Let's say you bring your car to a mechanic, and he tells you the repair is going to cost $3,000. When you say that's ridiculous, he drops the price to $1,500. You might be much happier at $1,500, but you're never going to trust the mechanic again.

That's akin to what happened here. Education leaders have demonstrated in the past that they could rig rules and formulas to produce whatever results suited their political desires, and now they have proven it again in full view of the public.

So, yes, this is what agenda-driven education reform has wrought.

Suspicion. Confusion. Mistrust.

And an education system that continues to churn out high school students with lower college benchmark scores than most other states.

This is not about the degree of difficulty of the new Florida Standards Assessments or the Common Core-inspired lessons they are based upon. This is about doing things the right way. It's about having the best interest of students in mind, instead of bending to the wishes of some politician or foundation. This is about fairness.

As students moved from the old exam (the FCAT) to the new (the FSA), the correct thing would have been to temporarily pause the high stakes involved, including school grades.

This would have allowed leaders to determine the degree of difficulty of the test, and it would have allowed educators to figure out where student learning gains needed to be made under a new set of lesson plans.

But the Legislature didn't want to hear that. Even though parents and superintendents practically begged for it, even though moderates in the Senate proposed it, the more partisan-driven members of the House refused to consider a pause in school grades.

So they left the Board of Education with this dilemma:

Either issue a harsh set of grades that would be meaningless because the new tests were not properly measured and learning gains were not taken into account, or issue more agreeable grades that would also be meaningless because they were pulled out of thin air.

This is typical of your state House at work.

Members have created one catastrophe after another in education, but they refuse to accept responsibility for their asinine reforms. In fact, they sometimes double down on ideas widely viewed as idiotic. (I'm looking at you Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.)

That's because they never suffer the consequences.

They leave that to the Education Commissioner, the superintendents, the school boards, the principals, the teachers and, most sadly, the students.

The entire point of accountability is to establish faith in the system.

And they've made a mockery of it.