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High school grading system undergoes change

By Staff | Oct 21, 2009

Lee County and 67 other school districts are changing the way high schools are graded.
Starting this year, the state will not only look at the FCAT exam for school grades, but other factors such as graduation rate, college readiness and participation in college-bound tests.
Grading for elementary and middle schools will remain the same and will continue to be released in the spring.
High school grades will not come until November of the following school year because graduation rates — not available until the next school year — are factored into the score.
Educators and families have historically been concerned that school grades are based only on the FCAT exam and not other indicators of academic achievement. These concerns were especially poignant for students who do not classify themselves as “test takers.”
Lee County Schools Superintendent James Browder said changes came because a bias existed in the way high school grades were calculated.
For Lee County, they did not include industry certification or the number of students taking Advanced Placement tests and the SAT.
Out of 30,000 Microsoft industry certifications handed out statewide, Browder said 10 percent went to students in Lee County. The certifications range from using Microsoft Office to building sophisticated networks, and now will count into school grading.
“There have been concerns over the years that it was only based on the FCAT,” said Dr. Richard Itzen, director of Accountability, Research and Continuous Improvement. “Half will be based on FCAT proponents and half on the new components with an equal number of points.”
The new grading system doubles the number of points from 800 to 1,600. Students can earn up to 800 points by taking FCAT exams and receive another 800 for their participation in accelerated tests, college readiness and their school’s graduation rate.
Members of the school board expressed concern at a meeting Tuesday that new grades will not be released until November.
“There are a magnitude of reasons why you want the information to come out at the same time,” said board member Jeanne Dozier. “It is going to put obstacles up.”
According to Browder, superintendents across the state are trying to work with the Legislature to find a way to release all of the grades at the same time, but this year the grades are coming out separately.
Under No Child Left Behind, parents are allowed to transfer students from their current school if it has repeatedly not reached Adequate Yearly Progress.
Browder said late high school grades could complicate the student transfer process.
“You have NCLB issues to look at, parents look at a variety of things on whether they want to change schools and one of them is school grades,” he said. “It has been frustrating for a lot of folks.”
According to a Florida Department of Education study, one effect of the new grading system is a decrease in the amount of schools earning an A.
Results from the DOE simulation were that 6 out of 12 Lee County high schools dropped one grade.