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
"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.