Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Taking the F Out of Grading

My summer reading collage for The Hunger Games.
In a recent report on our local public radio station, Senator David Simmons talked about upcoming changes to Florida's system of grading schools. Here in Florida grading schools is a yearly nod to accountability. Letter grades A through F are reported in news papers, on television-- essentially splashed media wide. School grades affect property values and mobility rates: serious economic business. Grades are calculated based on a variety of factors. There is no way to simplify how high schools are graded. Half of the school grade comes down to test scores: how many students score above proficient (or meet high standards), how many make learning gains in reading and math and by how much did lowest quartile makes "progress". The other half of the grade takes into account graduation rate, accelerated coursework (A.P., IB, etc) and more. Visit the 2010 Guidesheet for school grades and skip to page 2 to get the high school low down.

According to a press release from the Florida Department of Education, "of Florida's 2,547 graded elementary, middle and non-high-school combination public schools earning "A" through "F" grades this year:
  • 1,481 earned an "A" (58 percent), an increase of 82 schools compared to last year.
  • 458 earned a "B" (18 percent), a decrease of 33 schools compared to last year.
  • 460 earned a "C" (18 percent), a decrease of 35 schools compared to last year.
  • 117 earned a "D" (5 percent), an increase of 16 schools compared to last year.
  • 31 earned an "F" (1 percent), a decrease of 13 schools compared to last year."

High school grades were not release until well into this school year due to test scoring challenges. Of the 477 high schools, 151 (or 32 %) made As; 222 (or 47% ) made Bs; 72 (or15 %) made Cs; 24 (or 5%) made Ds and 6 (or 1%) scored Fs. (Totals calculated from the All District High Schools, School Accountability Report).

High schools performed even with a new test (FCAT 2.0) and shifting criteria (see how the cut scores for proficiency change from year to year).
from http://fcat.fldoe.org/fcatadvisory/pdf/ProposedCutScores.pdf

Now, the state has adjusted passing scores for the test and has revised  the school grading system.Senator Simmons at first proposed a year delay to the system but then changed his mind after a "weekend sit-down with Governor Rick Scott." Really? One weekend? One meeting?  I would have loved to have listened in on that conversation.

Simmons is in "favor of higher accountability of our school systems." However, one might thing he's nodding to reason with his follow up statement. Apparently he doesn't want to punish schools. Simmons said,  "At the same time, I do not want to penalize the schools here in the state of Florida for the successes they have obtained.”  What about the children?

If Simmons doesn't want to penalize schools, then why advocate a change to a poorly, underfunded system in the first place? It bothers me. It bothers me that media and politicians spend more time crunching numbers than they do helping kids. It bothers me that a report card for schools earns more attention than helping students who are poor and or homeless. Yes the 60 minutes story on the 2 Seminole County students who were homeless helped,rallied a national audience; those two students now have a home of their own. There are many more students still living in poverty in Orange County.

Senator Simmons is concerned about labeling schools "failing." In his own words he said, "He'd like to find another word." A word that "properly categoriz[es] and characteriz[es] what the score means." On my o'dark thirty drive in to work last week, listening to this story on the radio, I came up with a few choice words for Senator Simmons.

 How about, forgotten? How about forsaken? How about forlorn? F schools in Florida are not failing, they are fraught with political maneuverings--trapped in a shell game which hides economic inequalities that will forever impact the lives of the children teachers work so hard to serve.


Creston, Nicole. 8 March 2012. "Seminole County's Top-Rated Schools Brace for New Grading Policy."

Florida Department of Education. 30 June 2011. "School Grades Hold Steady Despite Increased Grading 
     Standards: More than three-quarters remain high performing."
     Press release. Available online


  1. Continue to challenge the status quo and speak for the trees...I too was moved by this local feature morning feature and so glad that we can share our listens together.

  2. Well said, Lee Ann. Grading schools is a simplistic, ineffective, incomplete, and dare I say, incompetent way of looking at the work that teachers and students do every day. You've hit on the sore spot when you mention underfunded; until we as a nation "put our money where our mouth is" and recognize that to truly educate a populace it is messy, and expensive, and takes time, grades are a convenient and less expensive way for our politicians to say they're doing something. Overhauling an education system that is not necessarily keeping up with the changing times is so far out of the ken of those who control our purse strings, it isn't even a conversation we can have. REAL change and effectiveness can not be measured or conveyed by a letter grade. (In our classrooms, either...)