Florida Coalition of School Board Members Accuses Some School Districts of Grade Inflation

On Tuesday, the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM) announced it found grade inflation in several school districts across the Sunshine State and called on the state Department of Education to withhold grades in schools in certain districts.

The FCSBM focused on Duval County in one of the reports it released on Tuesday.

“Duval County middle schools had a 66 percent civics pass-rate last year, which ranked 34 out of Florida’s 50 largest school districts. The district vaulted to number two this year with an 84 percent passing rate.  But while 8,649 students were tested in civics in 2017, only 5,739 were tested in 2018.  That participation drop is likely the major source of the district’s gains. Similar patterns appear in Polk and Manatee Counties,” the FCSBM noted. “The shifts were most noticeable in schools that serve large numbers of low-income children of color. For example, at Duval’s Matthew Gilbert Middle, where 100 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged and 95 percent are students of color, the civics pass rate increased 48 percentage points, to 95 percent. That passing rate is in the top 10 percent of schools in the state, and higher than any in St. Johns, Nassau and Clay Counties. But only 44 students took the test this year, compared to 144 the previous year.

“Matthew Gilbert is a persistently low-performing school – meaning it’s earned more than three consecutive letter grades of a D or lower,” the FCSBM continued. “The extra 48 points it could receive due to its higher civics passing rate substantially increase its chances of receiving a C grade. That would bring tens of thousands of dollars in school recognition funding, political acclaim for district leaders, and reprieve from the state’s new Schools of Hope law. FCSBM did not find similar patterns of manipulation in Clay, St. Johns, or Nassau counties.”

“A-F grades are designed to give parents clear, transparent measures of school performance,” said Duval County School Board Member Scott Shine. “If schools game the system, they are essentially lying to parents about the performance of their children’s schools.”

The FCSBM also looked at counties in other parts of the state.

“Polk County middle schools had a 62 percent civics pass-rate last year, which ranked 43 out of Florida’s 50 largest school districts…while 7,200 students were tested in civics in 2017, only 3,500 were tested in 2018,” the FCSBM noted.  “That’s more than a 50 percent drop, and likely the major source of the district’s gains.  Meanwhile, in Manatee County, the shifts were most noticeable in schools that serve large numbers of low-income children of color.  For example, at Sugg Middle, where 100 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged and 67 percent are students of color, the civics passing rate increased 39 percentage points, to 88 percent. It’s now among the top-scoring 20 percent of schools in the state in civics. But only 52 students took the test this year, compared to 228 the previous year. Sugg is a persistently low-performing school – meaning it’s earned more than three consecutive letter grades of a D or lower. The extra 45 points it could receive due to its higher civics passing rate substantially increase its chances of receiving a C grade. That would bring tens of thousands of dollars in school recognition funding, political acclaim for district leaders, and reprieve from the state’s new Schools of Hope law.

“Florida has promised parents clear, transparent measures of school performance,” said FCSBM President and Sarasota County School Board Member Bridget Ziegler. “If school districts game those measures for certain students in certain schools, that’s not accountability. That’s deceiving the public and is not addressing the real issue.”

Outgoing Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, expressed concern about the FCSBM’S findings.

“We passed Schools of Hope to eliminate failure factories in the state of Florida and ensure every child in this state has access to a world-class education,” said Corcoran who faces term limits this year. “We want to see schools make genuine improvements in teaching and learning. I am concerned some districts are inflating their results.”

 

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