2013 was a record setting year for Florida schools, but the reason why left many parents confused. Florida has a statewide A-F grading system, and 240 High schools obtained the "A" grade — but 107 elementary and middle schools received an "F".
Bonuses are available for A rated schools, and the rating can also influence property values. Schools that receive F or D repeatedly could be forced to close.
Michael Vasquez and David Smiley write in The Miami Herald that the suggestion was raised that the grades contradict each other. Florida Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick dismissed this:
"Those are things that are measurable in high school that, by definition, cannot be measured in elementary and middle schools," Follick said. He added that school grades are an "important and a valuable tool" that helps drives community discussion of "what do we value, what do we want to measure, and what do we expect from our kids when they graduate."
Many believe the huge difference in scores shows there is a credibility gap among Florida's education leaders. Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College, said the discrepancy shows a political problem for the Department of Education. He feels that it is hard for the public to accept that Florida high schools are rising at the same time that others are failing. He also does not believe there is proof that elementary and middle schools are performing worse than before. One example of this is in writing scores. A 3.0 used to be acceptable, but this year passing is 3.5.
Some schools like Miami's Morningside K-8 Academy had improved writing scores, but the school still received a penalty because the students struggled with tougher minimum scores. The same can be said for students at Miami-Dade and Broward schools.
"There's no science that said that a 3.5 was a more-appropriate standard," Pallas said. "That was just a judgment made by the Department of Education."
Many Florida schools are struggling to reach the new numerical targets.
Said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie: "A lot of this stuff, we're having some trouble trying to figure out what the actual statistical basis or rationale is for how it comes about."
Runcie and others are asking Florida to take a 2 year break from issuing grades. This would allow the school systems to deal with all of the policy changes. The changes include Common Core Curriculum and choosing a new standardized test that will replace the FCAT.
"Having a rational transition period will make a lot of sense for this state," Runcie said. "So there's going to be a lot of conversation in the state Legislature this year, in Tallahassee, about what's the path to go forward."
Former Gov. Jeb Bush implemented the A-to-F program in 1999, promising it would help parents compare schools; however since then the formula has been changed numerous times. Many deem the system overly complicated.
Parents who need help choosing a school are encouraged to visit and see the school in person and not choose a school based on a grade system.