State Politics

Crist touts new school ratings law

By PATRICIA MAZZEI

The Miami Herald

NORTH LAUDERDALE — He may have quietly signed a bill that changes the way Florida schools are rated earlier this week, but that didn’t stop Gov. Charlie Crist from inking his name on the law again at a ceremony in a North Lauderdale charter school Friday.

Crist visited the North Broward Academy of Excellence, a K-8, to tout House Bill 991, which expands to all Florida schools a pilot program that combined the state’s method of grading schools with the rating system under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Classes have been out since last week, but the school invited some students and their parents to the ceremony.

About 16 students, clad in their school uniforms, surrounded Crist and offered him blue Sharpie pens to sign the bill — and autograph their name tags.

“I’m going to run out of pens,” Crist joked.

“You have to buy new ones,” suggested 6-year-old Miles Fleisher, a soon-to-be first-grader, to much laughter.

All public and charter schools already receive grades. But the No Child measure only rates schools that get federal money because they have a high percentage of low-income students.

Last year, Florida got permission from the U.S. Department of Education to mesh the two methods.

The new bill puts that change into law. Schools will continue to get a grade — as well as a breakdown of how well students in different categories of race, disability and poverty are performing in math and reading like the No Child law already does for some schools.

Supporters say that will help schools identify struggling students in high-performing schools. Critics counter that the measure comes with no new money for schools to do something with the extra data.

On Friday, bill sponsor Rep. Tom Grady, a Naples Republican, said the hybrid rating system is in line with President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s push for more transparency in schools.

“This bill walks that talk,” he said.

When the state first brought the state and federal rating methods together last year, it significantly reduced the number of schools that would have otherwise faced serious sanctions — like closing or turning them into charter or special district-run schools — for repeatedly failing to meet federal standards.

Expanding the system to all schools might mean a greater number may face drastic consequences. But Crist said it could also mean more students moving into charter schools or more schools giving that model a try.

“It gives more schools the opportunity . . . to become a charter school,” he said.

Thirteen Florida schools risked sanctions this school year under the pilot hybrid rating system.

None will officially know if they skirted sanctions until school grades are released later this summer, though some have already celebrated significant gains in student test scores.

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