Hillsborough School Board Protests Special Ed Grading Policy

The Hillsborough County School Board has expressed reluctance to assign failing grades to schools that mainly serve physically or emotionally disabled kids. Instead, using words like “stupid,” “asinine,” and “abomination,” the board members voted to lodge a protest against the requirement to grade special ed schools with state and federal governments.

The letter-grade requirement came about as a result of a compromise between the state of Florida and the U.S. Department of Education as a condition to being granted a No Child Left Behind waiver. In order to be excused from some of the NCLB provisions, the state agreed to streamline its school assessment system, including changing how school districts accounted for test scores of disabled students and those just learning the English language after immigrating.

Districts could decide how to evaluate schools that were designated as serving primarily special ed students — either assigning them improvement ratings, which would count against the district, or giving out letter grades. Since the ratings could have an impact on the district that the students might not even attend schools in, most districts chose to give their special ed schools letter grades.

With the exception of two schools for children with discipline problems, Hillsborough chose grades. Now educators are bracing for F’s at the Caminiti, LaVoy, Lopez and Willis Peters centers.

“For my students, progress is measured in very small increments,” said Karen Western, a teacher at Caminiti. “Success may be as simple as using eye gaze as a response, or looking at a book as it is read to them.”

Many parents, however, have spoken out in support of assigning letter grades to special ed schools. Many want all schools in the state to face some kind of accountability metrics to allow parents to make better decisions about the education of their kids, but board members remained unswayed by these arguments.

After several members spoke on the record about their opposition to grading special-ed students, the board voted 6-0 to formally protest the grading system.

It’s not clear what the district can do, other than complain. Changing the policy might require legislative action.

“I don’t know what not complying with this looks like,” said member April Griffin, who described the policy as “ludicrous, and I’m going to say it, asinine.”

Olson said Hillsborough might want to devise its own grading system.

“It is time for someone who actually knows what is going on in our schools, the people in this room, to come up with a grading system that has some connection to reality,” she said.