July 9, 2008

S. Florida Falls Short of Federal Standards

By Nirvi Shah, The Miami Herald

Jul. 9--Only about a third of schools in South Florida and a quarter statewide met federal government standards for student performance, the state Department of Education said Tuesday. That is fewer than in 2007.

For nearly 400 schools across the state, this is the fifth or sixth year of missing the standards, and each year the penalties for missing them escalate, as do the law's requirements.

The federal law uses the reading and math sections of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to measure the performance of schools, but in a different way than the state's own grading system, which assigns letter grades using test scores. No Child Left Behind measures the progress of groups of students based on race, income, disability and language-ability.

If a school misses even one of the 39 criteria the law measures, the entire school is labeled as not passing.

This year's dismal performance means hundreds of schools statewide could have faced major overhauls of their staffs and academic programs, but a recent reprieve from Washington means most won't have to do that.

Instead, they will have to come up with less elaborate, but very specific, programs to reach the specific group of students who are struggling in reading or math.

For example in Broward, 26 schools faced an overhaul, which could have included removing the principal and other administrators. Instead, a school might simply work harder to make sure students learning English are taking advantage of all programs offered, including before- and after-school programs.

Last year the federal Department of Education gave Florida permission to count kids who aren't working at grade level in math and reading as if they are, as long as it appears those kids will be passing within three years.

"It takes away the sting from No Child Left Behind. Those students are going to become invisible again," said Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration official who is vice president of the conservative Thomas Fordham Foundation.

Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith disagreed. He said the plan prevents the community from getting a mixed message about a school.

"Those schools will be dealt with in a different way than a school that has perhaps schoolwide failure where large groups of students fail to make adequate yearly progress," he said.

Schools that fail to meet the annual goals for two years in a row must offer students the chance to transfer to other schools. After three years, they are entitled to free tutoring.

Dillard Elementary in Fort Lauderdale made adequate yearly progress this year, an achievement Principal Angela Fulton called "an extra bonus."

The school moved from a C to an A in the state's grading system.

"At the end of the day, it's not only about the school grade, it's about getting every child who enters your door a great education," she said.

Miami Herald staff writer Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.


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