How New Test-Based School Grade Formulas Will Hurt Florida’s Economy

Miami business leader Frank R. Nero pens an op-ed in this morning’s Miami Herald which  effectively makes the case that the state’s new school grade formula will hurt the state’s economic recovery. Nero a former teacher, is president and CEO of The Beacon Council, a public-private partnership and economic development agency for Miami-Dade County.

 Over the last several years, under the leadership of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, our school system has seen major improvements reflected in a variety of standardized tests, such as the FCAT.

But now Florida schools are going to suffer because the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) has rushed to push through untested accountability reforms, which will result in school performance grades that do not accurately reflect school and student performance levels.

After years of steadily improving FCAT results, parents and other stakeholders will likely be shocked and confused when, as predicted by many, school grades actually decrease based on the new, more rigorous and recently revised school grading formula. More than three-quarters into the school year, in fact, after the 2012 FCAT administration had already commenced, Florida raised the bar on its definition of “achievement.” The state included students who in the past, because of disability or lack of language proficiency, had been afforded more time to achieve parity with their grade level peers.

For example, the scores of students who have been learning English for just one year will help to determine schools’ performance grades. Both common sense and research suggest that these students’ test scores reflect their knowledge of English rather than their actual mastery of subject area content, knowledge and skills.

The Beacon Council, together with school district leaders and educators, are concerned about the speed in which these changes have occurred. Recently, several school boards and a number of educational organizations around the state have passed resolutions opposing standardized testing.

The new accountability changes may have far-reaching effects, including an impact on an already fragile business sector. Industries looking to relocate may see lower school grades and choose other states over Florida. Young families trying to decide on a community in which to build their futures may take school grades into account and could easily opt for other locations.

I am not against standards and accountability, but as a former teacher I understand that education is more than teaching to a test. Sometimes measurements of student achievement do the students and the community a disservice.

Nero has to walk among powerful south Florida legislators who have much invested in Florida’s “accountability system, so he understandably uses their jargon. But he’s onto the reality of what Floridians are waking up to: when they hear the word “accountability” they know it means “tests.”

The surge of opposition to Florida’s test-based accountability system is at odds with a decade of republican party rule in Florida. But so, too, that of its business establishment leaders. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Council of 100 has trumpeted anything that Jeb Bush and his two foundation’s advocated. The republican legislature has dutifully moved along any measure they supported. Rick Scott, the surprise new kid governor on the block, was clearly a kool-aid drinker at the beginning. His stunning admission Friday in Miramar Beach that there may be too much testing symbolizes a change, at least, in their narrative.

Do they get it, though? Do they really understand that Floridians know that accountability just means testing? Can they get beyond memes like “people just don’t like tests” or “teachers don’t want to be held accountable?” Moreover will they understand that not only do Floridians not like  their test-based-accountability system, Floridians, like Nero, also question it’s wisdom.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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