Friday, February 24, 2012

What Do You Believe? A Call to Action

Already this year the state board decided to change the cut scores for the new FCAT 2.0 - a change that while necessary to even out performance for students from grades 3-10, does indeed cause some disruption midstream in the school year. There will be a dip in student scores, resulting in a dip in school's scores, even here for us. My job since learning this in December has been to try and limit the decline by strategically targeting resources, encourageing teachers to stay the course and having primary teachers reach out to former students and their colleagues in support.

This past week I was made aware of a number of new proposed changes to the way Florida would approach school grades. 14 proposed changes to be exact. These changes are being recommended by the department of education and will be considered by the state board of education this coming Tuesday, February 28 - the day 4th graders across the state take the first FCAT assessment of the year - the writing test. A number of the 14 make sense, a few will even be of benefit to us but several of the changes leave me questioning the intent. I urge any concerned voter to carefully consider the message being sent to our public schools, ones where there are many challenges but ones where caring people are working hard and growth IS being made.

The most troubling 3 proposed changes were outlined below by Save Duval Schools

Proposed Change: Include students with disabilities & 2nd year English language learners in the school grade for their “proficiency” score on the FCAT.

What it Means: Right now, ESE & ELL students are counted in the school grade to determine if they made learning gains/progress. We want our students to be counted, but not punished. Many of them will not be considered “proficient” by the same standards as other children, but they are not failures. If their performance at the best of their abilities counts against their school grade they will become a liability to schools and much of the progress of last decades will be lost. Local centers serving our most challenged students will be graded like all schools and will become automatic “F” schools, enter “Intervene” status and principals & ½ of the staff will have to change. MAJOR INCREASE IN D & F SCHOOLS; FORMERLY A, B & Cs

Proposed Change: Require students who make a 1 or 2 on the FCAT to make more than 1 year's growth or the school grade will be penalized.

What It Means: Students already struggling & facing great challenges will have to make significantly more than 1 year's growth or be considered a failure. One years' growth is an accomplishment and it takes incredible work for children already behind their peers, including our ESE & ELL students. When the cut scores for what growth means keep changing mid-year, how will our students achieve? INCREASE IN D & F SCHOOLS; FORMERLY A, B & Cs

Proposed Change: Reading Performance Threshold: schools must have at least 25% of their students reading at proficient or they will become an automatic “F.”

What It Means: No matter what else a school has done to meet state guidelines for its letter grade – performance in math, growth of level 1 & 2 students, graduation rate increases – none of it will matter if the school doesn't have 25% of its students at a level 3 or higher on the reading FCAT. They will become an automatic “F” school and enter intervene status, which will require principal & staff changes and intervention from the state. RETURN SCHOOLS THAT HAVE IMPROVED TO F STATUS

Who to Contact with Your Concerns:
Commissioner of Education, Gerard Robinson -
State Board of Education Members: -

You can also complete the State Board's survey form about the changes, found here.

One of my favorite stories told by a veteran principal who worked in one of our city's most challenging schools was about taking a group of community members to the bottom of a flight of stairs and telling them to get to the top in one leap, without falling or help - impossible they said - yet that is a classic example of what is being expected of the children if these changes pass. She made them see how ridiculous that is - to expect that you can leap to the top in one jump. The top is attainable and each and every step, no matter how hard fought, is critical in helping each child get there.

Don't get me wrong - I believe wholeheartedly in accountability but I also know you can not effect lasting change in any system overnight. I also believe in public education - a system where every child, no matter the challenge is served and nurtured, trained and taught.

What do you believe?