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Today's op-ed on building a modern school grading system

In op-eds published this weekend in The Florida Times-Union (at right) and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, we called for the Florida Department of Education to move quickly to appoint a diverse commission to modernize the school accountability system. See the full text below. How do you want to see public schools evaluated? Respond in the comments.

-- Deirdre

 

State must act now to rebuild trust in school accountability system
By Trey Csar
President, Jacksonville Public Education Fund

Over the past several weeks, a brewing crisis over Florida's school grades has come to a head. It is clear that our state's school accountability system needs to be modernized to meet the needs of the 21st Century.

Florida's school grading system is the oldest in the nation, created to provide an easily understandable measure by which parents and citizens could gauge public school performance, while creating the expectation that all students could perform at a high level. Over the years, students in Florida have performed better and better, not just on the FCAT but also on nation-wide assessments. Just like a teacher would ask a student to do more challenging work as they improved academically, the state has periodically raised standards to encourage schools and students to rise to higher expectations.

But because of the way the current system is structured, any small change to the formula used to calculate school grades can cause them to fluctuate wildly. That makes it hard for the system to do what it is supposed to do: help a community understand how a school is performing and intervene with changes or extra resources where needed.

In the 2014-2015 school year, students will be expected to meet the new Common Core Standards, and take a new test that measures them. These standards are intended to prepare all students for college and career and ensure that Florida students are held to the same high standards as students in other states. Florida needs to act now to prepare for Common Core Standards - and modernize the statewide accountability system along with it.

The Florida Department of Education's Interim Commissioner Pam Stewart should immediately convene a diverse commission to provide recommendations for changes to Florida's accountability system for the 2014-15 school year. This commission should seek to identify fair and equitable recommendations to build a stronger and more informative accountability system that would be:

  • Transparent and easy to understand. A system of public school grades and accountability draws attention to inequalities among schools and helps reduce the achievement gap, but it must be as understandable as possible to the public to be effective.
  • Based on Common Core State Standards and an assessment test administered in multiple states. Such interstate efforts are challenging to implement, but provide an important measuring stick for the success of Florida students.
  • Based not only on proficiency, but also student growth. Focusing on proficiency alone unfairly benefits schools that serve primarily affluent students. Having a system that equally balances overall proficiency with the rate of student growth is crucial to providing true context, particularly in low-income schools.
  • Flexible but consistent. The system should be flexible enough to allow for changes, but those changes should be as limited as possible from year to year, ensuring that there is not continuous confusion about what the standards are.
  • More than just test scores. A comprehensive accountability system should take into account other measures of performance, and it should align with teacher and principal evaluations.


The commission that recommends changes to this system should include teachers, superintendents, researchers, parents, business leaders and other citizens from across the state. This group should embody different perspectives and be prepared for productive disagreement and dialogue.

Through a transparent process that includes diverse voices, the state can get widespread buy-in to a new system. Understanding how our schools are performing and directing resources to those that need them most will ensure that all children in Florida are prepared with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century.