One of the most important and difficult lessons we must teach our children is that life is not always fair. You don't always get what you need or deserve and sometimes the only way you can respond to that reality is to remain persistent and press on until you ultimately prevail.
However, if it is within our power to ensure a balance of fairness is accurately applied to a specific set of circumstances, we should be morally obliged to do so. That is why courtrooms have judges and baseball games have umpires.
I do not believe it is fair for the state of Florida to assign school grades or evaluate teachers based on the results of the Florida Standards Assessment given to students during the last school year. I am joined in this opinion by virtually every other school superintendent in the state of Florida.
I realize I am not in agreement with Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart and the Florida Department of Education regarding this matter. I realize my sense of fairness on this issue may not win the day. If it doesn't, I will accept that reality, remain persistent and press on.
Like other superintendents across the state and most educators I know, I am a strong proponent of accountability and rigorous standards. Our educational system needs clearly definable goals to make sure students are achieving as they should. And yet, for now, I feel I must join others in declaring that the use of last year's FSA results to grade our schools and evaluate teachers would be a fateful error that would set back the state of Florida's educational accountability system for years to come.
The move to the Florida Standards and FSA was a seismic shift for our state's educational system. This was not simply a move from FCAT 2.0 to FCAT 3.0; this was a throw the FCAT out the window endeavor that was colossally complicated for students, parents, teachers and schools. Computer glitches and cyber-attacks convoluted the process even further, and it all resulted in the state Legislature demanding the FLDOE contract with a company (Alpine Testing Solutions) to conduct a validity study of the FSA.
The results of the study were released in September and back the validity of the FSA, although there are variances of opinion regarding the results. The FLDOE is now saying last year's results will be used to determine school grades and to evaluate teachers. School grades will be released in December, according to the FLDOE, very late to be helpful to instruction for this school year.
If the FLDOE issues school grades based on last year's results, a critical component will be missing: student learning gains from the previous school year. That component alone amounted to approximately half of Florida's previous accountability system.
When the FCAT was first introduced in 1998, the first year's results were simply used as a baseline. The original FCAT results were not used to determine school grades until the following year, in 1999. It seems like we have forgotten or dismissed the wisdom of that approach.
In my mind, the state should not issue school grades or evaluate teachers based on last year's FSA results. The only way to truly level the playing field for all students and schools is to use last year's FSA results as a baseline from which to compare future results. That way it gives our students, teachers and schools the opportunity to adjust and gain confidence in the FSA, before any of them are thrown under the school bus by scores and results that are being openly questioned.
If we disregard the past and use last year's controversial results to make important decisions about our teachers and students, it will be like suddenly changing the rules in the middle of a game and then penalizing the players because they aren't as competitive under the new rules. If we take that approach, it will not be helpful to our students, our teachers or our communities.
It comes down to a matter of fairness. If we have the opportunity and ability to do what is fair, especially when it comes to our children's education, we not only should -- we must.
Dr. Diana Greene, is the superintendent of the Manatee County School District.