The state Board of Education has approved a series of changes to Florida’s process for grading schools. The changes come after the federal government allowed the state to break free from the No Child Left Behind school accountability law.
The exemption means that Florida can use its own school accountability system, its A-through-F school grades, to rate the state’s public education system. But the waiver comes with strings attached, a requirement that children who are learning English and students with disabilities be included in the grading.
The Florida Association of District School Superintendents was one of several groups opposed to the new system that would include students not previously factored in, particularly the newest learners of English.
“While we agree with the need to include students with disabilities and more (English-language learners) in the performance components for reading and math, we are concerned that the proposed rule is contrary to research-based evidence that demonstrates one year is insufficient for a child to acquire native language proficiency,” the association wrote to Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson.
While approving the inclusion of new English speakers, they won’t be counted for their first year under the plan approved Tuesday. And, under an amendment to the rule by Board member Gary Chartrand, the state Department of Education will convene a task force to come up with recommendations on how to include students with disabilities into the accountability system.
The number of foreign children who may struggle in English will obviously affect some school districts more than others, raising the possibility of inequality in the measurement system.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Board of Education that in his school district alone, there are more than 63,000 students whose first language isn’t English.
“You would need to put 30-40 Districts together in the state of Florida to come up with that number comparable to Miami-Dade,” Carvalho said. ‘We know we have students in their second year of language instruction who only achieve a 1-2 in FCAT Reading. But they’re learning. You know how we know that? Because in math, they are getting three’s, four’s and five’s.”
Carvalho, who also speaks several languages, said it would be hard for him to pass the state’s test.
“The issue is reading proficiency. If I were asked to sit for an exam given entirely in Spanish and expected to perform as well as a native Spanish speaker, I would fail the exam. I speak it beautifully, but I would fail the exam.”
The panel also backed down from another rule change that would have granted automatic “F” grades to schools with fewer than 25-percent of students reading on grade level. That proposal was softened to say that says schools with a grade of “D” or higher must have at least a quarter of their students’ scoring at or above a Level 3 on FCAT reading test. Schools that don’t meet the 25-percent threshold could see their grade drop down a letter. The change also affects the lowest 25-percent of student performers.
That too, won’t account against schools in the first year.
The Board of Education also voted to remove high school science from the list of things calculated in a school’s grade. Science is being removed because the state eliminated its 11th grade Science FCAT test-and its replacement-the Biology end-course exam, hasn’t been fully implemented yet.
–News Service of Florida