UPDATES after the bump at the end.
Scott Maxwell mocked Florida State University for missing the mistakes in the DOE’s school grades that were released on July 11. But the DOE made no mention of FSU validating the DOE’s calculus in its press release. The involvement of FSU’s role was not made pubic until the DOE’s press release on July 20 when the mistakes and improvements in 213 school grades were announced:
Tallahassee, Fla., July 20, 2012 – Today the Florida Department of Education notified 40 superintendents around the state about preliminary revisions to the initial school grades released earlier this month. The A to F school grades report for Florida’s elementary, middle and combination schools (not including those with high school grades) was calculated by the department, validated independently by Florida State University, and released July 11.
Lets explore possible explanations and some troublesome items.
1. Florida State University’s involvement – and it’s still unclear whom at FSU ran the numbers – was innocent enough, but the DOE has never done a good job of conveying to taxpayers and legislators that someone was double-checking their calculations. They do a good job of spinning accountability systems, but when it comes to transparency – not so much. This is the best possible outcome for the DOE and it’s decision makers.
2. Whoever at Florida State University the DOE asked to check their work needs to come forward and as I said in an earlier post today, “validate their validation.” Why the DOE was vague on who it was is irresponsibly evasive. Whomever it is, they’ve been outed and thrown under the bus. The DOE has lost credibility with Floridians as they’ve allowed themselves to be reduced to part of the PR team attempting to advance the notion that Florida’s current test-obsessed accountability system is just swell.
3. Please don’t tell me they’re making up the FSU involvement. But who can blame skeptics. By not being more specific on who did the work at FSU they’re opening themselves up to being questioned. Being so inspecific keeps whomever it was from being contacted by one of the state’s education reporters. Someone’s bound to ask. What if the formula that FSU got didn’t include the variable which prompted the grade improvements?Ruh-Ro, Raggy!
4. If two independent groups of highly educated number crunchers screwed up as the DOE press release says, the episode is just another example that Florida’s entire system cannot be trusted. It means far too much to Florida for mistakes to be made in the first place.
5. Now for conspiracy theorists, some questions to consider. What if the FSU aside on July 20 was a ruse and that person or department never appears? Wasn’t it convenient for the mistake to prompt grade improvements? Would the DOE dare to release grade downgrades a week after the fact?
The grade change story begs for further clarification and inquiry. The DOE badly needs to be seen as an honest broker and stop being part of the PR machine whose mouthpieces spurts out spin. Its website needs to stop conveniently posting only glowing takes from predictable suspects on policy – or not post any at all. With House speaker-in-waiting, Will Weatherford, the author of one of those glowing takes, it’s clear that Florida taxpayers can’t expect any responsible oversight from the legislature.
UPDATE (716 DST) Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel added this in a story posted last night:
DOE’s mistake centered on its failure to use one new piece of the complicated grading formula that it had revised earlier this year, officials said Monday. That piece of the formula aimed to give schools extra credit if struggling students made significant gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Extra credit? And by what standard are “struggling students” identified. The fact that this narrow tweek is limited to FCAT – a test taken during the morning on one of 180 school days - is evidence that FCAT means far too much. This little ommission meant grade changes for 213 schools.
UPDATE (7/26: 742 EDT) Here’s Cara Fitzpatrick’s post in Gradebook which shows the convoluted portion of the formula which the state used to raise grades.