New state grading system for high schools will reflect more than FCAT scores

— Success can’t be measured by a single test score.

Few people would argue that point, and after this school year, the grades assigned to high schools in Florida will take into account more than a single set of scores from state-administered tests. The grades will also reflect participation numbers in higher-level courses, scores from end-of-course exams, graduation rates and professional industry certifications earned by students. The way grades are assigned to elementary and middle schools will stay the same.

The outcome will be a more complete picture of how well high schools are preparing students to enter the work world or to pursue higher education, state education officials said.

The changes were approved by the State Board of Education Sept. 15, though they were required by a bill passed in the Florida Legislature in 2008. The old formula, which grades high schools in the state on a scale of F to A, was based on graduation rates and Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores.

“This new legislation is not the result of a dissatisfaction with the FCAT,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Destin. “But, the FCAT only measures the proficiency of half the students in high school. If you look at who takes the FCAT, half the students in a high school take the FCAT, but a school’s grade and academic image is based entirely on the FCAT performance of half the students.”

In high school, only freshmen and sophomores take the reading and math portion of the FCAT. Sophomores also take a writing test and juniors take a science test.

By their senior year, students are being left out of the equation when a state scrutinizes a school’s performance, lawmakers reasoned. However, in their junior and senior years, many students take Advanced Placement tests, International Baccalaureate classes and industry certification exams.

The changes are being welcomed by many districts across the state, according to Department of Education officials, but locally, it is also being eyed as a difficult transition.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” said George Clover, principal of Estero High School. “The one thing that jumps out for a school like Estero is we have a lot of people who move into our area that sometimes (find) the GED works best for them. Under the new plan, that will not be the case.”

The updated formula will not penalize students who transfer to different schools, but it also will not count General Educational Development, or GED degrees, toward numbers of graduates.

With a high proportion of migrant worker families clustered in Estero and Bonita Springs, Clover said, traditional diplomas do not always fit his students best.

However, challenge is what lawmakers said they were looking for with the new grading metric.

“There has been much speculation as to: ‘Will this make it easier or harder for schools to get out of the C/D (grade) doldrum that many of them are in?’” Gaetz said. “The answer is: The motive for this law was not to make it easier for any high school to earn an A or a B. The answer is, this law was designed to provide a more accurate picture of what happens in high schools.”

The formula will continue to take into account special degrees for the 2009-10 school year, but phase that out the following year.

Collier County’s Chief Academic Officer Martha Hayes said the district has just started to digest the material, but said the formula is complicated.

“Students will get points for participating in (Advanced Placement) classes and for how they perform, for example,” she said.

Hayes said the state will present a simulation of how the new grading system will work to districts in December. She said after that simulation, the district should have a better idea of how it will impact local high schools.

“We do know that every student will be assessed one on one,” she said. “That means, we probably won’t see school grades for our high schools until October. And we have been told to expect that.”

Though the new formula will not force districts to tell students who might not be as successful in advanced placement classes that they cannot participate in those classes, Hayes said she is concerned about providing access to those courses.

“If you have five or six kids at one school who want to take an AP course, you have to give them the opportunity. I think that will be very expensive for school districts to do,” she said. “I don’t think it is going to bring the equity (the state) thinks it will.”

However, there is an upside to the new grading requirements, Clover said. With a culinary institute, a health occupations program and new Microsoft certifications available at Estero High School, students have more to choose from than the standard Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes traditionally taken by students who plan to pursue higher education.

“We feel that we will hold our own in the industry certification for what we are allowed and what we can afford to offer here,” Clover said. “We’ve already increased the number of offerings for Advanced Placement and we are looking to add more next year. We’re comfortable with that. We feel that’s something we can manage.”

Connect with education reporters Katherine Albers at naplesnews.com/staff/katherine_albers and Leslie Williams at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_williams.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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