State Board goes with new school grading system

caines | 3/8/2012, 4 a.m.

Concessions made after parents and teachers protest in Tallahassee

The grades that schools receive from the State are based on a list of standards including the performance of students on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), student attendance and the post-secondary readiness of students as measured by the SAT. Leaders at the state level wanted to initiate sweeping changes in the way public schools are graded. But last Tuesday, as the State Board of Education prepared to meet and vote, it was hit by busloads of parents, teachers and others who claimed that the proposed school grading system was unfair and would have resulted in both unnecessary failures and more schools being converted into for-profit charter schools. As a result, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson agreed to revise the plan. Now, if less than one-fourth of a schools students cannot read at grade level, the school would drop one letter grade not be given an automatic F as was initially proposed. The board also agreed to delay the change until next year. Still, Robinson believes the changes, while severe to some, are necessary. The proposed changes to our school grading system are not only necessary to continue on the path of intelligent reform, but they will help ensure that Florida is prepared to compete on a global level, he said. Under our current school grading system, it is possible for a school to receive an A grade when one out of four students cannot meet Floridas grade-level standards for reading. This is unacceptable. Estimates of the increase in F schools that would result if the proposed policy had been approved were alarming. In Miami-Dade, the number of F schools would jump to 50 up from five; in Broward, to 27 from the current five. I am against any measure that is by rule or appearance unfair to the students of Miami-Dade County, said Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, 69, District 2 Miami-Dade County Public School (M-DCPS) Board member. I think these proposed changes build an unsettling foundation for the future of Miami-Dade County students. I am concerned with how long this cloud of uncertainty will hover above our students. Is education in Liberty City sub-par? Despite the current performance of schools in Liberty City, some still say that students are not receiving quality education. In 2011, Miami Northwestern Sr. High School earned a B for the first time in the schools history up from a D in 2010. Nonetheless, T. Willard Fair, 73, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami and former chairperson of the Florida State Board of Education, is worried about the future. It is an F with five pluses, Fair said of Liberty City schools. The biggest problem is that the adults to whom the children belong dont believe that education achievement is important. The system was embarrassed by the inability on their behalf to prepare the children to pass the FCAT so they lobbied to change the formula and all schools were improved. The issue is not what grade a school got but whether the children are performing on grade level. The bottom line is proficiency. When you talk about a school that goes from making a F for eight years then all of a sudden in nine months they become smart? You dont question that? Nikolai Vitti, director of the education transformation office for M-DCPS acknowledges that more works needs to be done. Our students in Liberty City can do better, he said. We are working on plans to ensure more children enter kindergarten with stronger literacy skills. We will also continue to review student achievement data and make teacher changes when necessary. By Randy Gricergrice@miamitimesonline.com