Streamlined school grading system poised to pass

By Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida
Published On: Apr 29 2014 09:33:47 PM EDT
School grades
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

A measure aimed at streamlining the state's school-grading system and pausing the most serious consequences for some schools is one step away from Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

The Republican-controlled House readied the bill (SB 1642) for passage Tuesday, batting away complaints from Democrats that the proposal still doesn't give schools enough time to prepare for a new state test set to be used in the coming school year.

Modeled on a blueprint developed by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the plan is an effort to simplify the confusing grading formula, making it easier for school administrators and parents to understand the marks.

The measure would also do away with the penalties schools could currently receive for the grades assigned in the 2014-15 school year. That move is in part an effort to make up for the state switching from the FCAT, now in use, to an exam crafted by the American Institutes for Research.

The new assessment will measure how well students are learning the state's new education standards, based on the Common Core benchmarks being used in dozens of states.

Democrats say the phase-in period isn't long enough. An amendment offered by Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, would have given schools three years to adjust to the new system.

"Teachers and principals need adequate time to ensure competency in instruction of our new state standards -- time that, frankly, we haven't given them, even in this bill," Saunders said.

Education groups, including the Florida Education Association, the state's main teachers union, have also called for a longer phase-in period for the new test.

But Rep. Janet Adkins, the Fernandina Beach Republican sponsoring the measure, suggested Saunders' amendment would put the good of schools and adults ahead of what students need.

"For those on the back rows asking for more time, I ask you to ask yourself: Whose best interest does a delay serve?" she said.

The amendment failed on a 73-45 vote.

The proposed changes come against the backdrop of years of disorder within the school grading system, including repeated steps by the State Board of Education to prevent schools from dropping more than one letter grade in the wake of changes to the school report-card formula.

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