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School Grades: What’s happening in the Legislature?

As the legislature continues moving to adopt a new school accountability model to roll out with the transition to the new Florida Standards next year, two important bills passed quickly through committees in the Senate and House yesterday. 

Senate Update:

The first was SB 1642, approved by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education in the Senate yesterday morning.  The bill largely reflects Commissioner Pam Stewart's recommendations for the new school accountability model and remained predominantly unchanged from a version of the same bill approved by the Senate Education Committee on March 4, with one significant change. 

The latest version included a new amendment that, while intended to ensure we continually push students towards higher achievement and not become lax in our expectations over time, could create more confusion than anticipated.  The amendment requires that the thresholds for what percentage of total points would be required for a school to earn an A through F grade must be reviewed every year, and adjusted upward every year in which 75% or more schools at any level earn As or Bs. The thresholds would continue to move upward every year that this happens until they finally reach the level of requiring 90% or more of total possible points for an A, 80-89% of total possible points for a B, 70-79% of total possible points for a C, etc. ( see amendment text on pages 72-73 of meeting packet).  

While the stated goal of this amendment is laudable, we're concerned that this amendment has the potential to do more harm than good in terms of undermining confidence in the system as a whole. 

In our recent policy brief and webinar, we point out ( as have others) that one of the primary sources of confusion and erosion of public trust in the system has been the number of annual changes made to the school grades formula over the past several years.  When elements of the formula change every year, it makes it difficult to directly compare year-to-year performance of schools - not to mention the confusion and concern among community members and educators caused when expectations change so frequently. 

We recommend setting specific, periodic review windows every 5 years.  During these windows, any necessary changes to the formula - including calculations, elements, proficiency thresholds, assessments or others - can be made at once during a single transition year.  During the years in between, the formula and expectations remain consistent so teachers, school leaders and community members can understand what is expected and what grades mean.

House Update:

The other important bill pertaining to school accountability in the legislature yesterday was HB 7117 (previously PCB 1402).  This companion bill to the one moving through the Senate also predominantly reflects the Commissioner's recommendations for the new accountability model.  It was approved with little opposition, with a prominent exception by Rep. Cynthia Stafford (D-Miami), who had strong concerns about approving a specific formula before knowing any details about the new statewide assessment that school grades are based on.

In this concern, we agree and it is one of the reasons we support a full one-year transition to be sure we take the time to get everything right before reinstating school grades and accountability the following year.

For more information about the current school accountability model being proposed, our recommendations, and information on how you can contact representatives to let them know what elements you believe are a step in the right direction and which areas you see as remaining concerns, check out all the information available at www.jaxpef.org/SchoolGrades.