In the Wake of New Standardized Test, Bill Protects Schools from Penalties

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: May 3, 2014 3:55 AM
Standardized test

As the clock ticks down to the full integration of the new Florida Standards, Florida’s schools might be getting a temporary break on the way they are graded.

SB 1642, passed in the Florida House this week, would temporarily pause penalties schools could receive for grades assigned in the 2014-2015 school year. In addition, the formula to dole out grades has been altered.

The grading formula has received significant criticism over the years due to what some view as an “overcomplication” of how schools receive individual grades. Parents and members of the public maintained the formula was essentially meaningless because of a flurry of changes to the grading formula over the years.

In February, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart recommended several alterations to the school grading formula, including eliminating “bonus points” schools can receive as well as certain triggers that could cause a school’s grade to drop.

Fifteen years ago, Florida became the first state in the nation to give its schools A-F grades, forever altering the way Floridians viewed their schools. Since then, several other states across the country have followed suit and now grade their schools on the same scale.

Next year will be full of changes for Florida’s education system. Not only are all schools seguing into the new Common Core-aligned Florida Standards, but for the first time in 16 years, students won’t be taking the FCAT. Instead, they’ll sharpen their pencils and take the American Institutes for Research (AIR) test, which will evaluate students based on the Florida Standards.

Because of these changes, superintendents from around the state pushed to have penalties for schools on hold for three years, which would give the state’s schools adequate time to adjust to the new test.

Democrats said the bill would hurt Florida’s students and criticized fellow legislators for rushing the process.

Supporters of the legislation, however, said students will adapt to the changes.

The legislation gathered the support of several education groups across the state, including Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. The A-F grading system was introduced while Bush served as governor.

“The bill will make things much easier to understand,” said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future. "Knowledge is power, so the more that parents understand, the ... better equipped [they] are to engage.”

Levesque ultimately agreed the legislation would make Florida’s schools better off in the long run.

“It’s simpler, it’s easy to understand,” she told Sunshine State News. “We know what we’re being graded on, and it’s easier to explain [the grading] to principals. Clarity and simplicity is a really good thing.”

StudentsFirst, a lobbying organization focused on reforming America's public education system, also chimed in with its support of the legislation, praising lawmakers for “protecting, strengthening, and simplifying Florida’s accountability system.”

“Grading Schools on the A-F system has helped set Florida apart as a national leader in education reform over the last 15 years,” said StudentsFirst Florida spokesman Lane Wright. “It has helped schools see where improvements need to be made, empowered parents with valuable insight, and helped elevate the achievement levels of our students."

The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for signing.

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

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