Number of Florida Schools Graded ‘F’ Grows Despite Student Gains

Even though Florida students are performing as well on the state's standardized tests as they did last year, the number of schools that have earned "F" grades using the state's the new assessment formula has already risen even though a number of schools have yet to tabulate their scores. Michael Vasquez and David Smiley of the Miami Herald report that the unexpected hike, which appears to be at odds with actual student performance, means that the state's A-F school ranking system is likely to come under more criticism in coming months.

The drop in the number of passing schools has been attributed, in part, to the state's continued tinkering with the school grading formula. Superintendents from across the state have complained that changes to the formula have made their job of assessing both student and staff performance much more difficult.

Those who support the changes argue that the declines are a natural consequence of tougher academic standards adopted by the state over the past two years. However, opponents think that saying that a growing number of schools are sub-par performers when in reality student achievement is up just clouds the water.

"If you look at the key indicators, we did go up," said Kathleen John-Louissaint, principal of Morningside K-8 Academy in Miami. "We are doing well … the grade doesn't really reflect what we're really doing as a school."
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, "There is no validity necessarily attached to this year's A, B, C, D or F."

Morningside, which dropped this year from a B to a C, had higher math and reading scores for third grade, and higher science scores for fifth grade. Fourth-grade students performed much better on their writing exam, except the state didn't give Morningside credit for the improved writing performance.

According to the Herald, Morningside's grade took a tumble in part because this year more special education and English as a Second Language (ESL) students are included in the school's overall writing test results. In addition, unlike last year, where a score of 3 was considered passing, this year the passing grade has been raised to 3.5. Even though Morningside students improved substantially year-to-year, only 46% of the school's students passed according to the new rubric — almost a 50% decline from the 70% passage rates last year, resulting in an F grade for the school.

Earlier this month, the Florida Board of Education took the rare step of questioning its own credibility, as some members of the board said the grading formula has been tweaked so thoroughly and so often that it is no longer statistically valid.

Nevertheless, Florida is still issuing letter grades this year, and schools that receive a failing grade may experience dramatic changes. Schools with a history of failing grades can be forced to hire new teachers and staff. In some cases, failing schools are closed altogether. Earlier this year, Broward's school district closed two public schools (Fort Lauderdale's Lauderdale Manors Elementary and Arthur Ashe Middle) because of failing school grades.

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