The Florida Department of Education released its 2015 school grades earlier this month. But comparing the results to years past is tricky and, in some cases, can be misleading.
| 1:04 a.m. February 25, 2016
West Orange Times & Observer
ORANGE COUNTY With hardly any fanfare, the Florida Department of Education released its 2015 school letter grades.
But Orange County Public Schools officials say the grades don’t include critical pieces of the student assessment and thus don’t offer parents a clear picture of school success or failure. Furthermore, the district cautions parents from comparing these letter grades to those of years past, which incorporated results from the FCAT.
“This year, we’re receiving the (school) grades without the learning gains component, so over 10 years, school grades have consisted mainly of achievement measures — the percent of students who pass those assessments in English, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies,” said Dr. Brandon McKelvey, Orange County Public Schools associate superintendent of research, accountability and grants. “But the other just about half of the grades have been the learning gains measures, our students growing in their assessment scores from one year to the next.”
Incorporating the learning gains system to school grading systems — meaning the measured improvement of each student on standardized assessments (such as the end-of-course assessments that still count as 30% of a student’s grade) — should better demonstrate whether Florida students and schools are making significant learning strides than the prior system, in theory, he said.
“What a learning gain does do is set an expectation of how much a student should grow in one year,” McKelvey said. “The clearest impact for students isn’t going to change too much from the past few years. There are still two assessments a student has to pass in order to graduate from high school: They have to pass a 10th-grade English language arts assessment, and they have to pass an Algebra I assessment.”
The biggest change is increased assessment difficulty, he said.
For each school, the bars to meet a letter rating have lowered in an attempt to reflect the enhanced difficulty of attaining learning gains, with the added effect of wider ranges making letter-rating change in either direction more difficult, McKelvey said.
“We’re still in transition with the school grading system, and a lot of times what our parents want to know is — when a change happens from year to year — ‘Did my school get better or did my school get worse; how can I tell?’” he said. “In this coming year, the 2015-16 grades that will be released in the summer will include learning gains, whereas (last year they) didn’t.”
This means comparing school letter ratings under this new system to past years will be more like apples to oranges, McKelvey said.
“A lot of times, parents see the grades and ... expect a little bit of consistency, and unfortunately (the components) haven’t been too consistent,” he said.
Olympia High School will host OCPS staff for a meeting further explaining partial grades and new grading methods from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday, March 7, in its auditorium.