Annual school grading has its critics
TALLAHASSEE - The annual school grades have lasting effects throughout the state, impacting home values, teacher bonuses, and where kids go to school.
According to the Herald Tribune, this year's results reflect a growing trend. More schools and districts are earning A's, while the percentage of students passing the state tests is not increasing as dramatically. Schools with fewer than half of their students passing state tests can earn a B. Twelve elementary schools went down in math, science and reading but saw their school grades improve.
The sunny results have the DOE praising Florida's education system. But critics are increasingly questioning a system awarding grades that don't seem to align with reality.
Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy pointed out that since he joined the board in 2014, there has been an 800% increase in the number of districts earning an A, from three in 2014 to 24 this year.
- Statewide, 65 schools earned an A or B with fewer than 50% of students passing math and reading exams, including Manatee Elementary School and Sugg Middle School.
- 12 Florida elementary schools improved a letter grade while the number of students passing math, reading and science tests decreased. This includes Bay Haven School of Basics Plus in Sarasota and Palma Sola Elementary in Manatee.
- 19 schools included in the state's "Lowest performing" 300 elementary schools earned an A or B in 2019, including four Manatee schools. Two schools that earned an A are on the list, including Manatee's Palm View Elementary.
While the grading system is intended to simplify, the numbers going into the grade are anything but simple. Noneducators know what an 'A' or 'F' means, but schools that brag about their ability to "produce learning gains in the bottom quartile" are likely to be met with blank stares.
"We just look at the grades," said Southwest Florida developer Pat Neal, who tries not to build homes on land near schools earning a C or lower. "How they are established is beyond my comprehension."
Statewide, eight districts earned a B with half or fewer of their students passing the reading test. At Manatee Elementary School, two–thirds of the students did not pass the state reading and science tests, and fewer than half could pass the state math test. The school earned a B.
Low pass rates aren't necessarily indicated by a low grade, as the state places strong emphasis on "learning gains" and the performance of the children in the bottom 25% of their class.
Students in the bottom 25% can count up to three times as much as their peers, incentivizing teachers and administrators to focus heavily on them. A student in the bottom quartile who failed the tests the previous year but is just on the cusp of passing could be a points bonanza for a school.