Miami-Dade has half the number of schools rated ‘F’ this year than last. No, they did not give kids extra vitamins. The State of Florida changed the definition of learning gains.
I think I like the change even if I do not the idea of test based accountability. Here’s why.
- The formula is much simpler. The old system penalized schools by lowering school grades for failing to make arbitrary targets, and it gave bonus points that were easy to manipulate.
- The system is somewhat less punitive. Now school grades are based on the percentage of students making learning gains. In the past, an at risk child’s increase in achievement might not have shown up in school grades because their gain was less than the state required. So, students who started school behind were making progress that did not count.
The new grading system has subdivided the two lowest proficiency levels. Level one scores are grouped in low, medium and high. Level two is divided into low and high. A child who scores at the same level but improves in the subcategory, from low to medium, for example, is counted as having made a learning gain. The net effect reduces the number of failing schools.
Students scoring at or above proficiency level three must increase their test scores by at least one point the following year to be counted as a learning gain (unless they are already at a proficiency level of ‘5’). The new school grade formula no longer provides bonus points. There are now fewer schools with ‘A’ grades.
It may still seem like smoke and mirrors. Achievement did not change, but the school grades did. It reminds me of the marks on the wall I used to make as my children grew. Most years the growth from one year to the next was about the same. Once in awhile there would be a growth spurt. The same was true for their achievement. I did not need to measure the kids except to see if they met the height requirement at Disney attractions or were they ready for some accelerated academic program.
Annual testing tells us what we already know. If you want to increase the school grades, change the formula. There has to be a better way.