Florida’s Bennett Considers Limiting School Assessment Fallout

Three weeks ago, after standardized test results in Florida proved to be worse than expected, the state’s Education Commissioner Tony Bennett promised to put together a task force that would consider ways to adjust school accountability systems to prevent a wholesale decline in school quality grades. This week the task force has returned its recommendations, including a suggestion that the policy put into place last year that limits reductions to a maximum of one letter grade be continued for another year.

Bennett is set to offer the full findings of the task force to the state Board of Education sometime in the next two weeks, and if he does agree to continue last year’s policy to mitigate grade drops, it would be a nice dose of consistency at a time when Florida’s assessment system is undergoing constant revisions. Superintendents from districts all over the state are complaining that they’re having problems coming up with solutions to make the grade after the Board implemented 13 changes to the school grading formula last year.

The superintendents say that some of the data they’re getting back as they do the initial calculations for the report cards seem to be off — but they don’t know why. Part of the problem, they say, is that the state has implemented 13 changes this year alone to the state’s accountability system for schools — making it harder to meet the standards and harder to figure out what’s going wrong.

“If we had just done one or two of these, it might have been digestible,” said Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “But the fact that we’re doing all of this … it has become very traumatic.”

In addition to continuing to limit grade drops, superintendents also want an independent third party to look at state data to figure out why the actual results when the assessment formula is applied are not lining up with expectations. Brandon Larrabee of Sunshine State News explains that the desire for an outside voice comes not from fears of failing grades, but from uncertainty brought about by constant changes.

Asked how seriously he was considering recommending a continuation of the temporary limits on grade drops to the board, Bennett was noncommittal, stressing that everything was on the table.

“I’m as serious about that as everything else,” he said.

In all, the superintendents say about three dozen changes to the way the state grades schools have been made over the last three years. And as that cycle has intensified, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, one of the mantras of school reform efforts has started to lose its validity.