Florida education commissioner recommends tweaks to school grade formula

Miami HeraldJuly 12, 2013 

Writing that the “credibility and viability of Florida’s accountability system” is at stake, Florida’s top education official has recommended that the state once again make last-minute changes to the formula used to calculate school grades.

The Florida Department of Education on Friday published a memo from Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to State Board of Education members in which he urged that they bring back a so-called safety net that will keep school rankings from dropping by more than one letter grade. He also recommended that they end a controversial practice of transferring test scores of students attending special education centers back to their home schools.

Bennett’s recommendations follow recent warnings that Florida’s attempts to increase the rigor of its grading formula in the last two years had resulted in too many changes over too short a period. Superintendents and education officials cautioned that as a result school grades were likely to plummet beyond reasonable expectations despite stable or in some cases even increased testing performance.

Bennett, however, stressed that his recommendations, based on a July 1 meeting with a hastily convened school grades task force, weren’t made to improve letter grades.

“To be clear, my recommendations, outlined below, are made not to soften the blow of higher standards or to reduce the number of failing schools,” he wrote, “but rather to advance the best policy for Florida’s students and position our state for a successful transition to full implementation” of the upcoming Common Core State Standards.

Bennett called the safety net, which he’d previously suggested was not in the spirit of transparency, should be “temporary.” As for transferring test scores of students at special education centers back to their home schools, he said the policy should be ended for those students who have never attended a traditional school in Florida.

He also said the state should calculate the latter retroactively through Florida’s appeals process in order to avoid a delay in the release of letter grades, which typically are issued this month.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to meet 10 a.m. Tuesday via conference call to weigh Bennett’s recommendations. For more information, visit www.fldoe.org.

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