With Lowered Bar, School Grades Improve

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: December 19, 2013 3:55 AM
Students taking a test

The Florida Department of Education boasted a record number of high schools receiving ‘A’ letter grades this year, but whether or not high schoolers are actually performing better than previous years remains a mystery due to the implementation of a safety net provision which stopped schools from dropping more than one letter grade in a given year.

According to the department, a record number of Florida high schools and combination schools earned an “A” school grade this year, with 240 schools – or 48 percent – making the highest grade. That means nearly half of Florida's high schools are considered high performing. 

The department also noted that since 2010-11, the number of “A” high schools and combination schools has jumped by 92 schools, an increase of 17 percentage points.

But it was just a few short months ago that Florida changed its accountability system after superintendents raised concerns that harder tests and higher standards associated with Common Core would ultimately cause school grades to plummet.

In order to stop the grade drop, the state board renewed its safety net provision which would effectively prohibit schools from dropping more than one letter grade. In October, the State Board of Education voted to extend the safety net for two more years.

Criticism abounded after the safety net was extended, particularly over the confusion that might arise over whether or not schools are actually improving in academic achievement.

"If we keep the safety net in place, we're not really going to know" how some schools performed, said board member Barbara Feingold in October.

But the vote went forward anyway and the net was extended, despite concerns that the grades might not be an accurate reading of student performance.

Gov. Rick Scott applauded the schools and their academic achievement, saying it's a sign that Florida's teachers are doing a good job at providing students with a solid education.

“With more high schools earning 'A’s, it is clear that our teachers are succeeding in providing Florida students with a quality education," said Scott. "A great education is the cornerstone of Florida’s future – and that’s why we fought to provide $480 million for teacher pay raises.”

Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart also pointed to the results as a sign of academic success in the Sunshine State.

“Thank you to Florida’s teachers, parents and school leaders for their outstanding commitment to continuing academic success,” she said. “Today’s results show that more students are ready for college or a career than ever. I am proud of the work our educators are doing every day in the classroom to prepare them for success.”

The success may be short-lived, however, as school grading is set to get tougher next year for high schools in Florida. 2013’s marks seemed to show the state’s schools are the pinnacles of academic achievement, but it seems unclear how much of that success is a true result of academic success and how much is a product of fabricated school grades created by the Department of Education's changes to the accountability system. 

 Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

Comments (1)

Nancy Fogle
9:54AM DEC 19TH 2013
There is an increase in elementary students turning to private tutoring agencies to bring up their reading skills in my area in the last few months. These parents are being told their children are below level readers in larger numbers than in the past. What does that tell us? As a retired teacher who has researched Common Core and knows it is developmentally inappropriate for lower elementary grades, I believe the system is n trouble!

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