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Fla. Superintendents Fail Proposed School Grading Changes

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – A new grading formula could mean more "F's" for South Florida schools.

CBS4 News partner the Miami Herald reports new projections released by state education officials show the number of failing schools in Miami-Dade could go from 5 to 50. Broward's "F" schools could go from 5 to 27.

These projections are based on a new grading formula which is up for consideration by the state Board of Education next week.

The new formula and its many provisions is drawing criticism from school superintendents around South Florida and the rest of the state.

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents outlined its objections in a letter to Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. The group wrote that it supports increased accountability but many proposed changes go too far.

The superintendents contend they would particularly harm schools that serve low-income and minority neighborhoods and undo efforts to win community support.

Among the examples they cited is a proposal to automatically fail a school based on a low reading proficiency score even though it may otherwise have an overall passing grade.

The superintendents also objected to holding home schools accountable for the performance of students after they have been sent to alternative schools or special education centers.

State education officials cautioned against reading too much into the projections. They said the figures were not "strong estimates" and were only intended to "illustrate the potential impact of the proposed rule changes."

"Don't take these as gospel. They're simulations only," said Jane Fletcher, director of the DOE office of accountability and policy research, according to the Herald.

Fletcher said she expects the letter-grade results will be different once there are two years of student scores on the FCAT 2.0, which debuted in 2011. Also, students generally perform better on an exam in its second year.

The state of Florida has awarded a letter grade to each of its public schools for more than a decade. The grade for elementary and middle schools is based largely on student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, and includes a measure for improvement. High school grades also take into account graduation rates, college readiness and the number of students earning industry certification.

This year, state education officials are proposing to change the grading formula because the state standardized exam has changed. The Legislature had also asked for some changes, and tweaks were needed to get a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Overall, the state has tested 18 changes. Among them:

• Raising the bar on FCAT 2.0 scores, making it harder to pass the more rigorous exam.

• Including test scores for students with disabilities and those learning English in the calculation for the school grade. Fletcher said that will help "provide focus to those students to make sure schools help them improve just like any other student."

• Factoring in Florida's end-of-course exams, which are being phased in for middle and high school students.

• Giving more weight to students who improve to high-passing grades on the state exam.

• Crediting middle schools for students who take and perform well on high school end-of-course exams.

• Giving an automatic F to schools that don't have at least 25 percent of students reading at grade level.

The state Board of Education will consider the proposal Tuesday in Tallahassee.

Had the new formula been in place this year, Broward would have had more than 50 schools classified as D or F. In Miami-Dade, that figure would have skyrocketed to 109 schools.

Schools that earn repeated F's can face strong state sanctions, including closure.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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