Florida’s A through F grading system as a means to gauge a school's performance has been fraught with controversy in recent years, and now a statewide parent group is fed up, calling for an end to the system which has been basic in Florida education for 17 years.
"Almost the totality of the Florida education system needs to be reformed in order to return it to its primary mission," said Florida Parents Against Common Core state director Luz Gonzalez.
FPACC, a statewide group, says despite improvements made through the grades and subsequent education reforms, the A-F grading system is in serious need of an overhaul.
Started in 1999, Florida devised the the A-F letter grade system as a way for parents to understand how schools their children's schools were doing. It was created to measure student achievement among schools statewide, factoring in standardized test scores and student achievement progress to compute each letter grade.
Florida has altered the grading system several times throughout the years, raising the bar for what it means to achieve each letter grade. In fact, it has undergone more than 60 revisions in the last two decades.
Critics say the grading system is to blame, keeping Florida from completing its primary mission of educating students to their highest potential.
“Present in today’s Florida classroom is an environment where showing test results is increasingly more important than any genuine proficiency in the curriculum subject,” said Gonzalez. “Such priority in measuring testing performance and confusing it with learning performance is one of the most faulty narratives of the test-punish-and-deceive culture that runs rampant in the Florida public school system.”
Grades for Florida schools have always been a hot topic in the Sunshine State. Each year, schools earn a new letter grade based on student achievement.
There are about 3,200 schools statewide and each aims for the highest grade, which can mean extra funding for the top letter grade. Schools with an “A” rating earn an extra $100 per student, which can mean a big boost in school funding.
Take 2015, for example.
Fifty-six percent of schools earned an “A” or a “B” last year, while six percent earned an “F.” This year, the number of “A” schools dropped to only 23 percent, decreasing from nearly 1200 “A” schools in 2015 to a little over 700 schools with the same letter grade this year. The number of "F" schools dropped from about six percent (204 schools) to three percent.
2016 school grades also saw the number of “C” schools increase by nearly 30 percent, with over 1,200 schools receiving the grade.
This year the department revamped grading rules which decreased the percentage needed for an “A” score from 66 percent to 62 percent, yet fewer schools received that letter grade than previous years.
The FDOE instead focused on the drop in failing schools, saying the scores mean students who may be having a tough time academically are making improvements.
“Even as we have continued to raise the bar for student performance and implemented more rigorous standards by which schools are graded, Florida’s educators and students have continued to excel,” Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said in a statement. “It is clear that our focus on Florida’s most struggling students is paying off.”
FPACC says the drop in higher-graded schools, however, is troubling sign and an indicator that the state’s assessment test, the Florida Standards Assessment, is an inaccurate way to measure student progress.
The parent group says it doesn’t believe students learned less in 2016 than they did in 2015, but does contend the problem lies with the state’s age-old grading system and the test which determines much of said grades.
“What we believe is that the FSA is a ridiculous priority measurement of proficiency or learning,” Gonzalez said. “What we further believe is that Florida’s school grading system is an administrative game with little credibility in accuracy.”