Changes to Florida's school grade system could be on the way

TALLAHASSEE — Changes to the state’s school grade system could be in the near future, after lawmakers approved changes Monday to Florida’s school accountability and teacher evaluation system.

The proposal, HB 7117 sponsored by Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, would simplify how school grades are calculated for elementary, middle and high schools throughout Florida. The proposal requires that grades be calculated based on the percentage of total points earned by the school.

“The bill focuses more closely on student performance in core subjects and takes a common-sense approach to how school grades are calculated,” she said. “(It is) analogous to how grades are calculated in the classrooms.”

Under current state law, schools are graded using several different components. For example, high school grades are based on a 1,600 point scale, 800 of which come directly from Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores. Other components — such as graduation and college readiness — make up 50 percent of the grade.

Under Adkins’ proposal, high school grades would be calculated based on 1,000 points; 800 of which would come from assessments in English language arts, math, social studies and science. The remaining 200 points would come from graduation rates and performance in advance programs, or acceleration.

The calculation is then based on a percentage of points earned. The state board of education would be required to adopt a school grading scale that sets the percentage of points needed to earn a specific school grade.

The measure passed the House education appropriations committee 11-2. While the bill received bipartisan support, some members said they hope Adkins makes a few more tweaks to the bill before it gets to the House floor, its next step.

Topping members’ concerns was a one-year hold-harmless provision built into the measure. The provision insulates schools from any penalties in 2015-16 that would come from the school’s 2014-15 grades.

This is the last year the FCAT, the current statewide assessment, will be used to calculate new grades. A new test developed by the not-for-profit American Institutes for Research will be used beginning in 2014-15.

Those scores will be used as an information baseline. Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, schools then could be subject to penalties.

Some committee members said they thought the transition period needed to be longer to allow schools more time to work out the kinks of the new test.

“My concern is, while we have used these new Common Core standards since 2010, it’s mainly in the K-3 or K-2 grade levels. When I’ve talked to my colleagues still in the classroom teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade, they’re still being held accountable to the Sunshine State Standards and the FCAT,” said Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland.

“While they’re reviewing and learning about new standards, they still have not worked out how they’re going to be different. I think a one-year pause is still not enough time. I think a three-year pause would give teachers enough time to fully learn them, practice them, implement them and see what works before they’re assessed.”

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, the committee’s chairman, said the one-year transition period will allow the state to create a baseline for future years.

“This bill transitions us toward the next evolution of this process,” he said.

Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, Naples Daily News and Tampa Tribune journalists are in Tallahassee reporting throughout the legislative session in a collaborative capital bureau.

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