Florida’s Public School Grading System Gets a Big, Fat ‘F’

The state finally admits that the way it grades schools is inaccurate.
Basing the success of a school on standardized test scores is proving to be more flawed than school officials originally thought. (Photo: Jon Schulte)
Jul 18, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Every year, letter grades are handed out to each public school across the state of Florida.

Parents use the passing, failing, or mediocre grades to decide whether their child’s school is adequate. Also, these grades can impact everything from teacher pay and bonuses to property value. Critics have long questioned the system, which was created by former Governor Jeb Bush, because the grades are based primarily on standardized test scores.

As it turns out, the naysayers were right in questioning their validity.

Florida state officials have admitted that these grades are no longer a perfect way to gauge how a school performs. There are now tougher standards in math and science, and over the years, there have been more than 60 changes in the formula used to grade schools.

As a result, about a third of the schools could see a grade drop this year. Some schools could even sink two or three letter grades.

Last week, the state’s Board of Education finessed the system, again, for a second year in a row to create an “emergency safety net.” That means regardless of how badly a school is performing, it will not be permitted to drop more than one letter grade.

Some parents say the grading system simply never worked and this latest development is just additional proof.

“School grades based on test scores never gave anyone any information other than the socioeconomic status of the surrounding neighborhood,” Rosemarie Jensen, parent of two public school students in Florida, told TakePart.

“From the beginning of this ridiculous system, everyone said, ‘Well we know what schools will be an ‘A’ and which ones won’t.’ The game is to make public schools appear to be failing so more for-profit charters can come in or maybe lawmakers can convince parents to demand vouchers.”

Even members of the Board of Education said that the system, which has been copied by other states, has become overcomplicated. Once based on the reading, writing, and math portions of the state’s standardized test, officials later added more subjects, graduation rates, and other exams.

“What began as a pure grading system, a pure measure, over time has become overly nuanced,” Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said, according to the Sun Sentinel.

As Florida prepares to implement the Common Core State Standards in 2014, the grading system is likely to be completely overhauled.

Jensen, who is an active member of her children’s school PTA, said that other factors, aside from how well students do on standardized tests, should go into evaluating a school.

“A better way to evaluate schools would be to look at the degrees and experience of the staff. Does the school have a library and librarian? Do the kids have recess, P.E., music, art, a science lab, and foreign languages?” she said.

She also suggested that the Board of Education look at how many guidance counselors a school employs and if the class size amendment is being followed.

Additionally, a school should be graded on whether it offers a broad range of electives, the amount of continuing education teachers receive, and if there are extracurricular activities for students.

“These are all things that parents look for in private schools,” Jensen said. “Public school children deserve all these things regardless of the neighborhood they live in. Every child deserves a fully funded, well rounded safe neighborhood school, staffed by professional educators with education degrees.”