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Why the state should suspend school grades for one year

In today's guest op-ed in the Florida Times-Union, we offered support for the growing call to suspend school grades for one year. Keep reading below to see the full op-ed.

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Click here to download a white paper outlining why a suspension in school grades will actually strengthen the state's accountability system - not weaken it.

Get full background research and regular updates about this issue by going to jaxpef.org/SchoolGrades.

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Suspending school grades will strengthen accountability - not weaken it

By Trey Csar

Florida's new math and English standards will better prepare all students to become the workforce of the future. But as Florida students and educators adjust to the first year of full implementation of the new Florida Standards, there have been increasing calls around the state to hit the reset button on school grades.

On Tuesday, October 7, the Duval County School Board is set to vote on a resolution calling on the state to suspend the issuance of school grades this year. We support this resolution, and agree that the Legislature should not issue new school grades for the 2014-15 school year, creating a clean transition between accountability systems.

A major factor in school grades is student growth from one year to the next. But measuring student growth from the old FCAT 2.0 to the new Florida Standards assessment is like comparing apples and oranges. For that reason, issuing school grades this year doesn't make sense.

School grades carry numerous consequences beyond the state sanctions, which have already been suspended. School Recognition funds are still set to be administered based on school grades. Many school districts, including Duval County, have their own independent accountability systems based on school grades. School grades are of great interest to parents and citizens, which can have ramifications for enrollment and reputation.

Finally, suspending school grades for a year won't compromise accountability - it will strengthen it. Even if grades aren't released, the Florida Department of Education will continue to release the data from components of school grades, including results of the Florida Standards Assessment, graduation rates, etc. This will ensure parents and citizens still have access to a variety of school performance indicators. And other states, such as Texas, have shown that suspending school ratings for a single year doesn't harm accountability in the long term.

Here are some other things that could be done to ensure that the transition to new standards is smooth and that the state's school accountability system remains stable many years into the future:

  • The Florida Department of Education should strengthen its communication with educators, students and citizens to clarify its process for issuing standardized tests, determining cut scores and measuring student growth.

  • The State Board of Education should consider improving the way that it measures student growth.

  • The state and school districts should continue looking for better ways to support teachers through the transition.

  • School districts should provide parents with a clear understanding of the new standards, the process of implementing the new test and strategies for supporting their children in the transition.

Having a strong, trusted and stable accountability system is important. Our annual public opinion poll shows that test scores and school grades are still by far the most often used factor that parents and citizens consider when making judgments about schools. Because of this, it is crucial that the grades be meaningful and accurate.

I urge citizens to support the Duval County School Board in passing this resolution, and to learn more about the issue at www.jaxpef.org/schoolgrades.

Trey Csar is President of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.