1. Opinion

Convoluted school grading system fails all

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Published Jul. 19, 2013

If all you parents will kindly take your seats we can begin this evening's orientation for the coming school year here at Lewis Carroll Elementary. And given the subject of our gathering we've taken the liberty to spike the lemonade with some good, stiff gin.

As many of you know, Florida public schools are subjected to a rigorous grading system to ensure parents that their children are receiving the finest education this side of Afghanistan. Here's how the grading system works.

In fact, it doesn't work. It is one big, fat, honking scam is what it is. In fact your little rug rats are merely pawns in a bureaucratic game of three-card monte. And I think I speak for all of the highly trained experts at the State Board of Education when I say we're awfully darned proud of the grading grifting game we're putting over on you clueless parents.

"Wait a minute. It says here on your website that Lewis Carroll is an A school. Are you saying that's not true?"

Tut-tut, my dear fellow. Rest assured it is true. It is true because we say so and therefore it is. Try to think of Florida's school grading system in Cartesian terms. Whatever it is, it must be. Anyone else?

"I have a neighbor whose loathsome little child attends Jean-Paul Sartre Existential Elementary. That school was a C school last year and we heard it was going to be an F school this year, but as it turned out, the state ranked it as a D school, even though most of the students would fail drooling. What gives?"

Ah, an excellent question. In its infinite wisdom, the Board of Education voted the other day not to grade schools where the students and faculty are barely indistinguishable from dropping more than one letter grade, so as not to hurt anyone's feelings.

"But is that fair? Shouldn't parents have an honest understanding if Fagin's school for pickpockets has a higher academic standard than those poor tots stuck over there at Samuel Beckett Middle School?"

Isn't that precious? You want fairness? Please. This state has been treating school grades as if they were a Chinese fire drill ever since former Gov. Jeb Bush decided to turn the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test into a weapon against public education and especially teachers.

"I thought Jeb was a champion of public education."

Yeah, about the same way Mitt Romney was a champion of the 47 percent. During the Bush junta, a school could get an A and the very next year receive a B even if they maintained the exact same standards — and thus began the grading roller coaster of Florida public schools.

"Why is that?"

Well this is a highly technical term but it's — because the powers that be could do whatever they want.

But you should know education Commissioner Tony Bennett is absolutely dead set against the new grading adjustment, believing parents have a right to know where their school stacks up. In fact, he stood resolutely against the change as a righteous matter of principle right up to the moment he went along with it. You don't find profiles in courage like that very often.

"So what's the bottom line here for my little darlings?"

I'm happy to tell you I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is you're going to have to live with the ambiguity of the grading system for a while. The good news is the Board of Education is going to change everything next year when the Common Core Standards take effect. Oh, I see we're out of lemonade.

"It was gone by the first question."