[lg policy] Florida: 'Disastrous' school grade policy averted

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 3 16:25:17 UTC 2012

'Disastrous' school grade policy averted
Author: Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Published On: Mar 02 2012 04:41:20 PM EST


On February 28, 2012, I spoke before the State Board of Education
(SBOE) regarding the proposed changes to Florida’s school grade
calculation.  As you are aware, many across the state were deeply
concerned with the potential negative ramifications that the proposed
changes would have had on schools, particularly those with significant
numbers of English Language Learners (ELL) and/or Students With
Disabilities (SWD).

The SBOE accepted many of the recommendations put forward by
superintendents and other interested parties calling for a transition
period to higher standards, an opportunity for broader input from
parents and practitioners, and the development of collaborative

The State Board of Education ultimately voted to accept the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver, however with a number of
conditions.  First among these is the establishment of a task force
charged with developing a methodology to address the inclusion of both
ESE and ELL student performance in a manner which appropriately
reflects realistic achievement targets for these students. This task
force is to be made up of parents, superintendents, experts and
representatives of the Department of Education.  The task force is to
develop and present recommendations to the SBOE at their next
regularly scheduled meeting. We are cautiously optimistic, as it
remains to be seen if the task force will have genuine influence
regarding the inclusion of ELL or SWD students in performance

Secondly, the Commissioner of Education has been directed to engage in
ongoing dialogue with the U.S. Department of Education regarding how
ESE and ELL students will be factored in to school performance
ratings. In addition, the following recommendations were accepted by
the State Board:

    the automatic “F” trigger was not accepted, rather for schools in
which at least 25% of tested students do not achieve proficiency in
reading, the school grade will be lowered by one letter grade.
Additionally, this sanction would not be applied until the 2012-2013
school year;

    middle schools will not be penalized for not having enrolled all
eighth grade students in Algebra 1 this year;

    science performance will not be factored into this year’s school
grade for high schools due to the fact that this is a standard setting
year for the Biology EOC exam; and

    schools will not be penalized for a lack of learning gains of the
lowest 25 percent of students in reading and math because there is not
a comparable assessment by which to measure performance this year.

The coming together of a diverse group of stakeholders whose common
interest is the education of the children of Florida is largely
responsible for averting the passage of policy which would have likely
been disastrous for public schools across the state. The SBOE’s action
proves that democracy is alive and well and that the power to create
change truly lies in the hands of the people.

Following are my notes used for testimony before the SBOE:

Today, while we are gathered here to define proficiency, while we are
considering changes to the school grading formula, children across the
state are sitting in their classrooms taking the FCAT writing exam,
exams for which they have prepared and practiced.  Each teacher has
been provided a rubric outlining what constitutes a 6, a 5, a 4 and so
on. They have instructed their students based on a defined set of
standards. I think we can all agree that it would not be right to now
change the criteria within that rubric and apply those changes to test
being taken today.  It just wouldn’t be right. Well, ladies and
gentlemen, I submit to you that that is what is being proposed here
today as you consider significantly altering the method by which
schools are to be graded beginning this year.

Let me be clear, I support increased rigor, I support accountability –
I believe that everyone in this room can agree that we are morally
obligated to ensure that Florida’s children receive an outstanding
education….what I am here asking for today is that the methodology
that is used to measure the success of students and schools is one
which is fair, is reasonable, and which does not unnecessarily
demoralize and disincentivize both teachers and students.

The proposed changes to Florida’s grading system such as the inclusion
of English language learners’ performance after just one year or
requiring that any school which does not achieve 25 percent reading
proficiency should automatically receive an “F”, wrongly assumes that
all schools and districts are operating on a level playing field.  For
example, schools where thirty, forty percent, or more of the students
are not native English speakers are going to be at a disadvantage in
achieving reading proficiency.  That does not mean that good
instruction is not happening in that building or that those students
are failures.

In Miami-Dade we have over 63,000 students whose first language is not
English.  We know that we have students who are in their second year
of language instruction who only achieve a 1 or a 2 on the FCAT
reading assessment, but in math they achieve a 3 or a 4; they are

I myself speak 5 languages.  Many would say that I am fairly fluent in
Spanish and I would agree, but I am here to tell you that if I were
asked to sit for an exam given entirely in Spanish and expected to
perform as well as a native speaker, I would have difficulty.  Does
that mean that I am a failure?  Is it reasonable then to penalize
students, teachers, and schools for failing to achieve proficiency in
reading after only one year of English instruction when research
clearly tells us that it takes more than that to achieve linguistic
proficiency? No!  It does, however, make sense to measure progress
toward that goal and to give credit for learning gains which are made,
and we support that.  The proposal to include the performance of ELL
students in the calculation of school grades after just one year of
instruction is not reasonable and will disproportionately impact
immigrant communities across the state.

It has been indicated that one of the conditions of the federal
government’s waiver of NCLB is that there must be inclusion of the
performance of ESE and ELL students in the accountability model.  I
would submit that while that is accurate and we support it, the
requirement does not specify how to achieve it.

Requiring that non-native English speaking students achieve
proficiency on the FCAT after just one year of English language
instruction or that the performance of even profoundly disabled
students be included in school grade calculations is unreasonable. I
think we can agree that it is inappropriate to expect all students
with a disability, regardless of their specific exceptionality, to
perform on level with their non-disabled peers. The Department, I
believe, agrees that this is unreasonable, in as much as it has
announced that the grading of ESE centers would be taken off the

It stands to reason then that a reassessment of the rule which would
effectively penalize traditional schools that offer inclusion should
receive similar consideration. Imposing sanctions for the performance
of ELL or ESE students runs counter to democratic ideals and could set
up situations where one group is looked upon unfavorably because it is
perceived that they may be “dragging down” a school’s rating. This is
not in the best interest of anyone, and I don’t believe it represents
the intent of the Department or this Board.

On September 14, 2011, I traveled to Washington D.C. to provide
testimony before a congressional Committee on Education and the
Workforce. In my comments I called for flexibility in the application
of sanctions and held out Miami Edison Senior High, a school where
over 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced priced
lunch, as an example where performance is improving and reforms should
be given adequate time to take root without the application of
penalties such as staff replacement or school closure. I told the
members of the committee that Florida had it right when we opted to
add additional component such as graduation rate and participation in
advanced academic offerings to the high school grading formula.  I
believed we were on the right tract in recognizing that there are many
facets that define the performance of a school and not merely one
indicator on a test.

Unfortunately, some of the changes such as the “F” trigger being
considered today threaten to undo much of the progress that has been
made in our state and may undercut the creditability of Florida’s
accountability system, which has become a model for others.
Projections indicate that under the proposal before you today,
Miami-Edison would fall from a C to an F, once again labeling the
school as failing in spite of increasing its graduation rate to over
74 percent, up 25 points in only two years, and increasing the number
of students considered “college ready” from 38% to 70% in the same
time period even though over 25 percent of the students are identified
as “English Language Learners.”

I have heard the argument that the “F” trigger is necessary because,
as was stated in an FAQ put out by the department on Monday, “All
students, no matter how they are classified, have to demonstrate
proficiency on the Grade 10 FCAT to earn a standard diploma.”  That is
not exactly the case and is perhaps a bit misleading or simplistic.
First, in a school such as Miami Edison students taking the 10th grade
FCAT for the first time may struggle for a number of reasons including
their ELL status; however they have up to three opportunities to
retake the reading portion of the FCAT.  Under the current formula
schools may only earn bonus points for successful re-takers. Further,
for those who do not pass the FCAT they may still earn a standard
Florida Diploma and be accepted to colleges, universities and other
post-secondary institutions by achieving a concordant score on either
the ACT or SAT. In the case of Miami Edison the majority of students
graduated not merely achieving concordance, but scoring well enough to
be considered “College Ready,” and yet under these proposed criteria
that school would be deemed failing.  Let us not lose site of the fact
that the FCAT being used for school grades is a one-time snapshot in
the spring of a student’s 10th Grade year, it is not the only means
for a student to meet the graduation requirement.

Indeed, by the state's own calculations, if the new standards were in
effect this year, the number of "F" schools in Florida would jump from
38 to over 250, while the number of "A" schools would drop by over 500
schools. How could this be?  Does it make sense that in just one year
school performance could fall so drastically, or does it instead call
into question the validity of the grading system as a whole, thus
undermining the public’s confidence in the quality of our public

I submit that Florida’s public schools, notwithstanding the
challenges, are sound. I submit that performance is improving, and I
and the other Superintendents here today support increased standards
and accountability, but we need to question the pace and timing of
these proposed changes.  Right now there are not adequate data to
support these proposed changes.  The new FCAT 2.0 and EOC tests have
only been in place for one year, when at least two years of data are
required to accurately set standards.

The Department itself admits that many of the simulations and
discussions are “based on estimates.”  It is my opinion that decisions
regarding school grading and accountability should rely less on
“estimates” and more on trend data that have stood the test of
statistical analysis, validity, and reliability.

Over the past several weeks a very interesting thing has happened;
issues surrounding educational policy, accountability, and quality
have leaped to the front pages, and are the subject of community
meetings, board meetings, and the water cooler.  People are talking
about what makes a quality schools, and that is a great thing.  It
would be my hope that we collectively seize this opportunity to engage
the broader community and step back from the proposed changes put
forth today, and instead allow for a second year of FCAT 2.0 results
to be analyzed so that the changes that are ultimately adopted are
based on solid analysis and not merely estimates rooted in
hypothetical performance.  The stakes are too high and the
consequences too significant for us to simply “take a best guess.”

Respectfully, I ask that this Board listen to concerns raised by
parents, superintendents, teachers, and technical assessment staff and
opt instead to provide an opportunity for broad input, public
Involvement, reasonable implementation timelines, and realistic goals
that strike a balance between raising the bar for achievement and
respecting the individual challenges faced by students and
circumstances surrounding many schools with high percentages of
Exceptional Education and ELL students.

My testimony today would be incomplete without a nod to my heritage
and my own personal experience.  You see, today, I stand before you
calling for modifications to the proposed accountability rule which
recognizes the struggles of students faced with challenges and the
efforts of teachers and schools which endeavor to support them.  I
represent what could be. You see, when I came to this country at just
16 years old I was unable to speak the language. I was one of 6
siblings living in a one-room apartment in my native country. I come
from a family where no one had ever gone to college or even completed
high school. I faced many of the same obstacles that the students at
schools like Miami Edison do.  Would I be where I am today if I had
been labeled a failure after one year in this country? Were it not for
our core belief that all children can learn and that all students
deserve a quality public education, I would not have broken out of my
own cycle of poverty.

There is no need to rush to a decision today. A response to the
federal government is not required until July 15, 2012, allowing time
for input from parents of ESE and ELL students, superintendents and
other stakeholders.  Establish a taskforce which can go point by point
and collaboratively craft recommendations which align to the
requirements of the waiver, recognize the unique challenges faced by
many students, and support Florida’s transition to more rigorous
academic standards.

In closing, let me reiterate that we strongly support enhanced
standards, increased rigor, and the use of accountability measures to
inform and improve practice.  What we are asking for today is the
application of reasonableness to implementation and recognition that a
period of transition should be provided to ensure that the performance
of our schools is accurately reflected and that students and teachers
are not unfairly penalized or stigmatized.

Thank you.

    Copyright 2012 by Post Newsweek. All rights reserved. This
material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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