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School Grading System Ignores One Problem: Florida Is Still Dumber Than South Dakota

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Good news: According to our new grading system, Florida's public schools are doing better than ever! D schools are B schools! C schools are A schools! Florida is an educational dynamo!

Bad news: Our high school seniors are totally illiterate. We are dumber than South Dakota and only marginally better-educated than Arkansans.

The good news comes from the Florida Department of Education, which for 11 years has assigned school grades based upon FCAT performance. This year, for the first time, the DOE has graded based on other

factors as well -- specifically students' performance in advanced placement classes (as measured by exam), general graduation rates, graduation rates of at-risk students, and relative levels of improvement in any of these areas. The new grading system has led to enormous gains in documented school performance, meaning more schools than ever will receive a coveted A grade, and thereby become eligible for $75 per student in state funds, which, in a school with 1,300 students, equates to about $100,000 per year.

The bad news comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, which monitored high school seniors' academic progress in 11 states. Florida

scored third from the bottom, ahead of Arkansas and West Virginia, and well behind Idaho, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The study found only 32 percent of our high school seniors are "proficient in reading." The national average is 39 percent.

The disparity between our letter-grade improvements and our dismal assessment from the NCES isn't as surprising as it initially seems, because our letter grades are almost meaningless. In Broward, where two high schools went from D's to A's (Coral Springs and Plantation), one from D to B (Dillard), and one from C to A (Western), actual FCAT scores have not experienced any commensurate improvement. They are still climbing at a rate of a few points per year, as they have since the implementation of the FCAT -- an improvement corresponding not necessarily to any intellectual renaissance among Floridian youth, but rather to teachers' growing proficiency at teaching to the test. This is a time-consuming activity, and one that distracts teachers from less measurable, less profitable pursuits. Such as teaching our kids to read.

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