'A' Schools Leave Children Behind
How good are this year's FCATscores? That depends - two-thirds of the state's schools earned A's or B's from the state, but nearly that number fail to meet federal standards.
FCAT vs. No Child Left Behind
More Florida schools receiving high grades from the state this year also met federal standards, though much of the increase was due to technical changes.
Up to 370,000 Florida students will be eligible for free tutoring this fall - at a potential cost to school districts of tens of millions of dollars - because their schools once again failed to meet federal standards.
For the third straight year, a majority of Florida schools did not meet the bar set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to data released by the state Wednesday.
As a result, those that get Title I money - federal money set aside for poor children - must now offer tutoring to any student in the school who wants it.
The sobering news came on a day otherwise sprinkled with bright spots.
"Moms and Dads should be proud of the results we're seeing," Gov. Jeb Bush said in Tallahassee as he announced the state and federal report cards.
Slightly more schools earned A's and B's this year despite tougher writing standards and the inclusion of some 250,000 students with either disabilities or limited English skills into the grading formula.
Also, about 400 more schools this year made "adequate yearly progress" under the federal system, due in large part to changes made last month in how Florida measures progress.
Still, the two systems continue to clash.
The state gave 67 percent of Florida schools A's or B's, yet 62 percent failed to meet the federal mark.
Nearly 400 A schools did not make adequate yearly progress.
Forty C schools did.
Both systems are based on scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but they measure progress differently.
The state takes into account improvement among the lowest performing students, while the federal system looks at performance, period, and considers how well a long list of subgroups do, including minorities, low-income students and students with disabilities.
If even one subgroup fails, the whole school is deemed in need of improvement.
On Wednesday, Education Commissioner John Winn announced a deal with federal education officials was in the works that might bridge the disconnect.
Schools that make an A or B but fail to meet federal standards are now given "provisional" status under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education that Winn said was approved Monday.
This year, 825 schools fit into the new category.
For now, those schools still face full federal sanctions, including providing transfer options and tutoring. But Winn said the department is negotiating with federal officials to determine a different set of consequences.
Winn declined to offer specifics, citing an agreement with federal officials. But in a meeting with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board two weeks ago, he expressed concerns about how sanctions are targeted - and how the new status might change that.
Under the existing rules, all students in Title I schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress are eligible for tutors, not just those who are struggling.
"Instead of giving them all supplemental services, let's do it just for the nonproficient kids - because isn't that who we're trying to help?" Winn said.
Winn said he hoped an agreement could be reached by next year.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Education did not return a call for comment.
Not everyone likes the plan.
The new category is "another confusing label," said a written statement from Communities for Quality Education, a group with close ties to teacher unions. "This looks more like a Band-Aid on an embarrassing political problem than an answer for our schools."
At least one district official, though, saw the provisional category as a plus.
"That is a common sense approach," said Walt Bartlett, director of federal programs for Hillsborough County schools.
Under No Child sanctions, districts are required to set aside 10 percent of their Title I money for tutors in affected schools. That's on top of the 10 percent that kicked in under last year's sanctions, which required districts to provide transportation to students who transfer.
More than 750 schools fit the bill statewide, including about 100 in the Tampa Bay area.
Pinellas schools plan to set aside $5-million for transportation and tutoring. Hillsborough is planning to set aside $8-million.
The new category might allow Hillsborough to channel more of that money to students in high-poverty D and F schools, Bartlett said.
Charlie Eubanks, the No Child Left Behind administrator in Pinellas, said he doesn't think the district will need to spend the entireThe number of schools getting F's from the state rose to 78 this year from 41 last year. Twelve of them were F schools last year. Fifty-nine received F's for the first time. And 26 were alternative schools that weren't graded until this year.
$5-million. But it's unclear how many students will choose the tutoring option.
One national survey found 18 percent of eligible students last year took advantage.
Meanwhile, the value of the benefit remains unclear. No studies have been done to gauge the effectiveness of tutoring under No Child, and critics say federal officials have not set robust quality standards. Hundreds of companies have cropped up in recent years to cash in on a growing No-Child-inspired market that is expected to top $2-billion a year.
There is a "wide range of quality and very little guidance from the (U.S.) Department of Education on how to monitor it," said Patricia Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington D.C.
For now, many Florida schools are focused on the good news.
While five fewer schools made A's this year, 52 more made B's.
Countryside High School in Clearwater was one of them. After falling from a B to a C to a D in the last three years, Countryside rebounded to a B.
The school focused on curriculum, looked more at individual student data and used reading coaches for a second year in a row, said principal Gerald Schlereth.
"The district had a plan for the D schools (and) reading coaches were part of that," Schlereth said. "I think it had an impact."
The state was not expecting more A's and B's this year.
Computer modeling had showed that by putting disabled and limited-English students into the mix, some 700 schools would go down a grade level or more. Instead, those students made some of the biggest gains on the FCAT - proof, Winn said, that the state accountability system nudges schools in the right direction.
"Now does that mean, did anybody consciously not serve them well?" Winn said. "No. It just means (school grades) got people's attention."
On the downside: The number of F schools rose to 78 this year from 41 last year.
Twelve of them were F schools last year. Fifty-nine received F's for the first time. And 26 were alternative schools that weren't graded until this year.
Times staff writers Joni James, Donna Winchester, Jeffrey Solochek, Stephen Hegarty and Connie Humburg contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at 727893-8873 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Matus & Matthew Waite
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES