State grading of schools was intended to give all Floridians a way to measure the quality of their public schools. It's a great idea - in theory. But what we have is the most confusing, constantly changing system that doesn't accurately measure anything. All it does is leave parents, teachers, administrators, students and everyone else scratching their heads trying to figure out if our schools are failures or bastions of the enlightenment in any given year.
Everyone braced for this year's grades to come out. They were warned that higher grading standards would be applied and a lot of schools would do poorly. That happened here in Highlands County as we registered our first "F" school and several others that were spared "Fs" only because rules required that letter grades could only come down one level.
Every year, though, these grades fluctuate a lot for some schools. It doesn't seem a reliable way to measure if that's the case. How can a "C" school drop to an "F" school so quickly? Bad teaching? Bad students? Bad administrators? We don't believe that's the case.
What we have is a poor way to measure the success of schools. It's a nearly impossible task in the first place, but the system Florida has devised is deeply flawed. Benchmarks seem to change continuously. How can any actual reading of results be ascertained by measuring a moving target with so many variables?
And even if all Florida schools scored an "A" on their annual report card, how do we compare with other states? It would make sense to have one test, nationally, that all states are scored on. And that test should rarely be changed so that real conclusions could be made as to what works, what doesn't and what needs to be changed.
These days there's a fight among "common core" initiatives that is tied to national education standards. Some claim that it gives the federal government too much information while others say that's nonsense and it should be implemented.
What matters is that whatever testing is required be fair, comprehensive and give everyone a clear view of what's going on. When these tests are tied to political persuasion, such as FCAT, all we get is a muddied result that benefits no one. In fact, it can hurt students and teachers, and cost districts big money.
The public wants a way to know their schools are providing a quality education, but they are denied that now. If our schools are truly failing, we want to know, but the current tests leave most folks confused, wondering if it's real.
Hold schools accountable but do it accurately. Make the standards and results clear. Only then will these tests be worth anything. In the meantime, give the state an "F" for failing this test.