One can never expect Palm Beach Post editorialist Jac Versteeg to hold back in his ire for Florida education policies. This morning was no exception. In his sights were Florida’s school grades:
Florida’s high school grades for last year are out, and they show… what? For an alleged accountability system, the state-assigned grades show very little.
The state Department of Education warned that parents and students can’t learn much by comparing new grades with previous ones because the formula for computing them has changed significantly. Still, top-level education officials touted the sharp increase in A-rated high schools — to 231 from 148. Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand said it shows that “Florida’s teachers and students continue to meet the challenge of higher academic expectations. When we expect more from our students they achieve more.”
Sounds good. In fact, the state inflated the grades by using what the state DOE called “temporary safeguards…to help smooth the transition” to tougher standards.
High schools that didn’t do a good job improving scores of their lowest-performing students got a break. That’s the opposite of No Child Left Behind. Science skills, or lack of them, didn’t count because the science FCAT has lapsed. The acceptable graduation rate for at-risk students was dialed back to 65 percent from 75 percent. Participation in Advanced Placement classes counted more than actual scores on AP tests.
This grading scheme is an improvement because factors other than the FCAT count for 50 percent. Rather, it will be an improvement if the state ever puts in place all the valid components it promises, including meaningful end-of-course tests in most subjects. Still, assigning a grade to an entire school always will be suspect. What’s the point, particularly if the state fudges the figures? Individual grades matter. School grades remain a function of politics, not academics.
More pointedly, a political tool. While positive, post-massage school grades give guys like Chartrand, the politician, an opportunity to pat himself on the back, poor grades give Chartrand, the charter school executive, a tool to advance his pro-charter school agenda.
One cannot ignore the fact that this release of high school grades is 8 months late. Was it due to the fact that, for once anyway, the FDOE wanted to get it right? Or was there a problem with funding the merit pay which went along with the program? In late November 2011, education commissioner Gerard Robinson warned that a budget shortfall existed in the program. Did this budgetary problem carry over somehow?
Not long after last year’s shortfall became evident, Palm Beach Post editor Randy Schultz outed the republican legislature for never intending to fund their merit pay mandates in the first place. The big lie was put in place by current house speaker Will Weatherford, who in a 2009 opinion piece, condemned FEA opposition to the Race to the Top grant as it would reward “excellent classroom teachers” with “real financial rewards for excellence.”
Florida’s republican politicians have been giving lip service to both of the state’s merit pay programs. Worse than being unfunded mandates, they are turning out to be fraudulent ones.