Number of top-ranked schools in Florida dropped
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The number of highly-rated Florida schools dropped sharply this year, a development that state officials foresaw and warned parents about a week ago in an effort to brace them for the news.
Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson and other top educators called it a result of tougher standards and new achievement levels required of students.
The annual grades released Wednesday come at a time when the state's system of evaluating students, schools and teachers is under some of the sharpest criticism it has endured in the years since former Gov. Jeb Bush first pushed the system into place.
Gov. Rick Scott himself last week questioned whether the state is testing its students too much, but he defended the latest round of grades.
"It is never easy to raise the standards for excellence in education," Scott said in a statement. "This year is no exception. But every time we raise the expectations of our students and teachers, they ultimately get better in later years. Simply put, raising the bar works."
The new grades showed a 24 percent drop in the number of A-rated elementary, middle and combination schools. Last year 1,481 Florida schools received A grades. This year the number dropped to 1,124 schools.
The number of schools that received D and F grades also grew. The number of D-rated schools jumped from 117 to 238, while the number of those schools that received an F grade went from 31 to 47.
Each year the state hands out A-to-F grades that are used to reward top schools and sanction those that get failing marks. The grades are based primarily on student performance on a series of high-stakes tests in reading, math, writing and science. Part of the grade is also based on whether students demonstrated learning gains over the previous year.
Robinson earlier this month warned that the school grades would drop because of recent changes to the state's grading system. He cautioned parents that the drop in grades "does not necessarily mean that the schools, teachers or students are not doing as well as they were before."
Anticipating the decline in grades, the State Board of Education earlier this year voted not to let any school drop more than one letter grade this year.
Robinson said Wednesday that the decision to blunt the impact of the changes helped nearly 400 schools, of which many would have dropped one additional letter grade without the policy.
One of the leading critics of school grades -- and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test which is the main test used to calculate them -- called the grades of a little value.
"The formula to calculate school grades is extremely elaborate and complicated," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state's teacher union. "The State Board of Education has changed the proficiency levels and point requirements used to calculate school grades numerous times over the years. One year's "A" could be the next year's "C" based solely on a formula calculation. These changes make it virtually impossible to compare and judge the quality of public schools."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)