Cindy Edelman, Chairwoman of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund Board of Directors, and Tom Van Berkel, Chairman of the JAX Chamber Board of Directors, wrote the following letter to the editor of The Florida Times-Union regarding the changes to school grades amde by the state Board of Education.
February 23, 2012
To the editor:
On behalf of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and the JAX Chamber, we would like to express serious concerns about proposed changes to the School Grades formula. These changes were first put forward last month and are set for a vote by the State Board of Education on February 28.
These proposals would unfairly create more 'F'-graded schools in Duval County and around the state, saddling districts with a flood of schools subject to costly state-mandated "intervene" actions.
Most significantly, the plan would factor in the performance of students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency into school grades. This would mean that schools designed specifically to serve students with disabilities, such as Duval's Mount Herman Exceptional Center, would be graded for the first time based on the same academic performance expectations as all other schools. All would receive a grade of 'F.' Schools with designated centers for English language learners would also likely be penalized.
In addition, the proposal would change the way learning gains are calculated and would also drop any school to an 'F' if at least 25 percent of students are not reading proficiently, regardless of improvement.
The state board has already taken the important first step of raising standards for our students by adopting new FCAT 2.0 cut scores. It was a step that was supported by many superintendents and advocacy organizations locally and around the state.
But to expect severely disabled students, as well as those who have been in English language classes for only one year, to be accurate barometers of a school's performance is not supported by any research. We urge the board to vote "no" on this change, and instead consider what other states are doing in this arena.
If any of these proposed changes are enacted, however, we recommend that they go into effect in the 2012-2013 school year. Because students are taking the new FCAT 2.0 for only the second time this spring, this summer will be the first time for calculating learning gains based on the test. Implementing the changes to the School Grades formula in 2013 would allow schools and students the necessary time to plan for meeting these expectations.
For more information about this issue and how you can contact decision-makers, please visit www.jaxpef.org.
Cindy Edelman, Board of Directors Chairwoman, Jacksonville Public Education Fund
Tom Van Berkel, Board of Directors Chairman, JAX Chamber