Kaitlyn Delaney is Chalkboard Project’s summer intern. She is currently in an elementary education teacher preparation program at Florida State. This is Part 2 in her series of blog posts on Florida’s school grades. Read Part 1 of Kaitlyn’s post here.
Last month I wrote about the school grading system in my home state of Florida and the grades’ unique relationship to standardized testing and school-wide funding. The Florida elementary school grades were just released for the 2011-2012 year, and boy, was there a change in scores.
Changes in Scoring Let’s start at the beginning.
There are a number of reasons as to why scores were different this year. They can all be said to be due to a change led by Gerald Robinson, our new state education commissioner. He has operated on the belief that Florida schools improve when more is asked of them. So, more was asked of the schools in the form of our standardize test’s (FCAT) grading standards.
- Tests were made more difficult – most notably, the FCAT Writing exam. Students, for the first time, were penalized for improper grammar, punctuation and misspellings. They were also graded on the logic of their arguments and use of supporting details.
- Another change was the addition of a second scorer to the exam (which allows for half-point scores).
- Thirdly, the state raised minimum scores required for each scoring tier.
- Lastly, in order to qualify for the NCLB waiver, students with disabilities and English language learners’ scores are now included in the report card.
While looking at the change in standards, one would assume a significant initial drop in scores. The problem in Florida, however, is that these standardized grades directly affect school funding. The Florida Board of Education recognized these concerns and issued a “circuit breaker” that allowed schools’ grades to drop only by no more than one letter grade. Without the board’s decision to do so, 388 schools would have dropped by more than just one letter grade; 40 schools would have dropped three grades and nine schools would have dropped four grades (the equivalent of an ‘A’ to a ‘F’).
I agree with the higher standards that have been set for FCAT. I believe that our students need to be challenged appropriately, especially after the recent data released about how students do not feel adequately challenged at school. But next year is going to be difficult for the majority of schools in Florida, certainly with the absence of the additional per-pupil funding. These schools are going to have to tighten their belts; a notion that I worry will begin to influence an even greater focus on time spent on standardized test preparation. I believe in Gerald Robinson’s notion that Florida schools can perform at a higher caliber, but I hope that Florida teachers and administrators use FCAT as a useful measure of student learning, not a strict guide to daily instruction.