Rely on Course Grades, Not the Bushes' Grades
Congratulations, parents. With the annual release on Tuesday of FCAT-based school grades, you will possess a trove of information about how your child is doing.
Or is it how your student's school is doing? Or is it how the teachers are doing? Or is it how well the school is spending its money?
That's right, this is a multiple-choice test, and the answer is: "All of the above." In this case, "All of the above" turns out to be as useful as "None of the above."
Gov. Bush and Florida Education Commissioner Jim Horne and President Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and probably a list of folks down to the crossing guard are pumping out information to make sure schools are accountable. "I understand the importance of making informed decisions for our children," Mr. Horne said this month in announcing the accountability bonanza. But there's "informed" and there's "buried."
The problem is that parents can't make sense out of all the information because the conglomeration doesn't jibe with itself. Eighty-four percent of 10th-graders can write on grade level, according to the 2004 FCAT, but only 37 percent can read on grade level. In last year's grades, 48 percent of schools got an A from the state while 84 percent flunked the federal test. So a parent could find that her child did well on the FCAT but that the school botched its FCAT-based grade. Or that her child and school did well on the FCAT trials but bombed on the No Child Left Behind standards.
Mr. Horne, peddling the dubious claim that he and the brothers Bush are providing "improved school information for parents," tries to explain how even though "both the state and federal laws evaluate how well students have mastered" information Florida thinks they should know, schools can ace the A+ Plan but flunk No Child Left Behind. It has something to do, he says, with the fact that "NCLB requires each student subgroup... to make adequate yearly progress" as opposed to just performing on grade level.
It also has something to do with Gov. Bush needing to claim, despite conflicting results, that his FCAT-based plan is doing swell and also support his brother's No Child Left Behind plan. Other states revised their standards to reconcile the differences. Gov. Bush prefers to defend the inconsistency.
Despite federal and state attempts to rate entire schools, most parents will be most comfortable relying on old-fashioned course grades, perhaps supplemented by the student's FCAT results. But even that gets complicated. For example, when third-graders fail the one-shot reading FCAT, they can flunk for the year even if they pass the yearlong reading courses. And even if parents get a wealth of information, they don't necessarily get it when it will be of much use. Old-fashioned grades have been coming all year. Students didn't get most FCAT results until the last week of school. FCAT-based school grades and the NCLB results are coming after school is out.
Meanwhile, parents at low-income schools are supposed to have decided already whether they want to use the NCLB option to transfer their child from a failing school to a "better" one. Even if individual students are making A's, they can move to a different school if the school itself performs badly on NCLB. School districts also had to start planning, financially and logistically, how to transport thousands of students to alternative schools.
Even as he touts the tons of information he shovels onto public-school parents, Gov. Bush insists that parents at private voucher schools don't need any of it to know whether those schools are doing a good job. The result of his unwillingness to set voucher standards has been a year of voucher scandals. In fact, parents at private voucher schools and public schools need reliable, consistent scores that are easily interpreted and delivered when there's still time to improve grades that fall short.
What do Gov. Bush, Mr. Horne, President Bush and Mr. Paige have in common? All of the above deliver none of the above.
Palm Beach Post
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