Last year, Florida gave a new standardized writing test to students in various grades and the scores were awful: Only 27 percent of fourth-graders had proficient scores, down from the previous year’s 81 percent. So the state’s Board of Education voted to lower the passing score on this exam.
This week, the same board voted to change the system that assigns letter grades to each school based largely on test scores. The system was pioneered under Jeb Bush, who was governor from 1999-2007 and has become a national leader of corporate-influenced school reform he implemented in Florida. A number of states, including Virginia, have adopted versions of Bush’s system to grade schools, which is based nearly exclusively on test scores. There are high stakes to the school grades: Schools can be closed if they get too many F’s, parents buy houses to get into high-scoring schools, etc.
The board became worried that as many as a third of public schools would see plummeting grades when new school grades are released in the coming weeks because new and supposedly higher standards will result in lower student test scores. So what did it do? By a 4 to 3 vote, it declared that no matter what the test scores are, no school can drop more than one letter grade in a single year.
The members who voted for the change called it a “safety” net for schools. Critics called it a “scam.”
“When the votes of seven political appointees can instantly transform a ‘C’ school into one rated ‘B,’ it’s easy to see that the grades have no real meaning,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the misuse of standardized tests. The state’s school grading system is, he said, nothing more than “a politically manipulated scam.”
With this just the latest of several dozen changes to the voting system in just the past few years, board chair Gary Chartrand said, “I don’t think the truth is being revealed in the current grading system.”
So much for accountability in education.