CLEARWATER -- A three-day schools summit ended Wednesday with promises to fix Florida's beleaguered school grading system, but it's still not clear what it will mean for students and teachers across the state.
Gov. Rick Scott called for the schools summit following a summer that included the abrupt resignation of Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and a backlash over the state's well-known A-to-F grading system that is based primarily on test results.
During the summit, a small group of politicians, school superintendents, teachers and members of education advocacy groups debated everything from what kind of test should be given students to how to evaluate teachers.
They came up with a long list of suggestions, such as expanding grades by adding "pluses" and "minuses" and changing some of the scores used on standardized writing tests.
Now it's up to Scott to decide which recommendations should be followed.
"It's really up to the governor now," said Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association. "He put us together and said he wanted to hear what we had to say. We'll see if he does anything."
Scott quickly pledged to carry out some of the suggestions through either executive orders or by pursuing new laws during the 2014 session.
"The discussion and ideas generated this week will guide our future decisions and steps we will take," Scott
said in a statement.
The Scott administration, however, did not say which ideas it may be willing to follow. And before the governor makes any decision, he's planning to have a private dinner meeting Thursday with former Gov. Jeb Bush -- the architect of the state's current system -- to discuss education.
State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, and Gary Chartrand, chairman of the State Board of Education, are also planning to attend the dinner in Miami. Chartrand said he expected a "good frank conversation" about education at the meeting.
The Florida Democratic Party labeled the summit "pure re-election chicanery," and said Scott convened it to mask the large cuts to public school spending he proposed during his first year in office. Scott is seeking a second term next year.
The party also criticized Scott for not attending the three-day event. Thrasher, who did attend the summit, defended Scott's decision to bypass it. He said the governor's presence would have "overpoliticized it."
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in the wake of the summit lawmakers will likely consider changes to make the grading system "more transparent" and "easier to understand."
Florida has had testing for years: the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, which served as the foundation for the A-to-F grading system that is used to reward and sanction schools. Over the years, however, the criteria used to grade schools have changed as new requirements have kicked in.
The flurry of changes has drawn concerns from school superintendents who have questioned the continued validity of the system. Teachers, meanwhile, are concerned that their evaluations now are linked largely to how students fare on tests.
Shortly before he stepped down this summer, Bennett persuaded the State Board of Education to adopt a "safety net" provision that limited a school grade from dropping more than one letter at a time. The move helped more than 150 schools from avoiding an "F" grade but it led to criticism that the grades were misleading. Now the board is contemplating extending that provision for another year.
Bennett resigned after it was reported that his staff in Indiana, where he was the top education official before taking the Florida job, changed that state's school grading formula to benefit a top Republican donor's charter school.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho initially expressed skepticism about the summit, but said he was optimistic his concerns would be addressed. Carvalho has pushed to soften the impact of the grading system as Florida moves from its current school standards to tough new standards called the Common Core State Standards.
"The key now is that the recommendations be pursued rigorously in a transparent, reasonable and respectful way to ensure improvements to the state's accountability system," he said.
But not everyone left the summit satisfied.
McCall, of the state's teacher union, said summit participants did not spend enough time considering the true impact of the state's current teacher evaluation system. Laura Zorc, a member of Florida Parents Against Common Core, was disappointed there was no real debate over the merit of shifting to the new standards.
Zorc said she used her time at the summit to meet with legislators and urge them to revisit the standards. But she said wants Scott to hold a public hearing where opponents and proponents of the new standards can debate them.