1. Opinion

Editorial: Grading system: End it, don't mend it

Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner.
Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner.
Published Feb. 14, 2014

Florida's school accountability system doesn't need another bandage; it needs major surgery to regain the public's trust. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's proposal to once again adjust the formula for determining school letter grades would only create more confusion and frustration about the discredited evaluation of schools, teachers and students. The Board of Education on Tuesday should reject Stewart's plan and embrace the proposal from school superintendents to suspend school grading until the state writes and vets the new student tests that will replace the FCAT. There is no point in keeping school letter grades that would mean little and further erode public confidence.

Stewart last week said the path to restoring the public's faith in the much-maligned Florida A+ grading system is to simplify the formula by removing some of the automatic triggers that cause a school grade to drop a letter, such as when less than 25 percent are reading at grade level. She also would retreat from controversial changes to high school evaluations adopted in 2010 that added SAT scores, Advanced Placement performance and certain graduation rates to the mix. School grades awarded for the 2013-14 school year wouldn't be comparable to previous years, not that any of them in recent time have been meaningful.

This superficial window dressing is what happens when a governor gives lip service to education and cares more about the appearance of accountability than the practical impact on schools and families. As public disdain for school grades and concerns about the Common Core State Standards grew last year, Gov. Rick Scott called an education summit in Seminole to consider solutions but failed to show up. Earlier this month, he met with 30 school district superintendents but failed to listen to their pleas to slow the transition to the new curriculum and its still-unwritten companion assessments.

In 2014-15, the much-maligned standardized test that serves as the backbone of the entire school grading formula and the linchpin in many teacher's evaluations — the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — is going away. But Florida hasn't even picked the tests that will take its place and foolishly backed out of a national consortium developing the tests in a misguided attempt to appease tea party critics. There isn't even time to field-test the so-called end-of-subject exams once they are adopted. That's a reckless oversight in a state that still had trouble administering the FCAT more than a decade after it began.

On top of all of that, now Stewart wants the Board of Education to endorse revised, meaningless school letter grades just for the sake of keeping the grading going until the new system is in place. House Speaker Will Weatherford has said one of his goals of the legislative session that begins next month is "restoring trust and integrity in our grading system." Stewart's plan isn't it. If the Board of Education doesn't realize that, the Legislature should step in. It is better to get the transition to Common Core right than to just pay homage to a flawed evaluation routine that already has lost all credibility.


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