Saturday, October 19, 2013


By Kimberly Beltran, SI&A Cabinet Report – News & Resources

Friday, October 18, 2013  ::  One member of Florida’s state board of education called the state’s school accountability system a ‘farce’ after the panel agreed to extend for one more year a ‘safety net’ system that masks actual performance.

Florida, like scores of other states across the U.S., is grappling with the rough transition from existing curriculum to the new common national standards that has resulted in student test scores dropping through the floor during the first years of implementation.

The state’s so-called “safety net” prevents public school letter grades from dropping by more than one as the state phases in more rigorous teaching and testing standards.

The safety net was applied as an emergency action for a second time this summer for elementary and middle schools based on last year’s tests, the results of which were released in July. That meant, for example, that a school that actually went from a C grade to an F grade would fall no lower than a D on the Florida Department of Education’s statewide report card that also gets shared with parents and the public.

The move is in line with similar decisions being made across the country as states struggle to measure student progress and maintain school accountability under federal laws while at the same time developing and delivering new curriculum based on Common Core State Standards.

This year in Oklahoma, for example, lawmakers made changes to that state’s A-F system that included no longer weighting “proficient” and “advanced” scores differently, and no longer making whole-school performance part of a school's main grade calculation.

Texas has reduced the number of standardized tests it will administer this year, chiefly in secondary grades, leaving officials there to determine how the exempted students' performance would be used to judge schools for accountability purposes.

California Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month signed legislation that suspends almost all of the state’s standard assessments, effectively gutting for the year the state’s Academic Performance Index which is comprised 100 percent of test scores. The move drew a threat from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to withhold federal funds from the state, which unlike Texas and Oklahoma, has not received an administration waiver from some provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Florida is among the 45 states and the District of Columbia rolling out the Common Core standards, a more rigorous list of what students at various grade levels are expected to learn.

The board’s action this week means the safety net will stay in place for this school year, which will see the full phase-in of the new standards, and next school year, when the traditional Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test gives way to a new exam that has not yet been developed.

Board officials in Florida argued that the safety net should remain in place until the state fully implements the new Common Core standards and develops an accountability system based on new tests.

But critics, including two board members, worry that students in states not maintaining strict accountability measures will end up with an inferior education, and that watered down measures defeat the purpose of the system.

“There are huge discrepancies across states and districts and cities regarding performance,” saidNikolai Vitti, the superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., in a New York Times article this summer.

At the same time, groups of frustrated teacher and parent associations have railed against what they say is an undue emphasis on standardized testing that has warped classroom teaching and led to high-profile cheating scandals.

But even those who want to move public schools away from such high-stakes testing say that if school districts are not required to show they are improving student achievement, they are likely to ignore the most vulnerable students.

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