August 1, 2008

The Significance Of School Report Cards

By Marilyn Brown, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Aug. 1--Q. Why does Florida give school grades?

A. Although federal law requires states to test students in reading, writing and math, Florida developed the school grading system with its own rewards and sanctions. States choose their tests for the federal report card.

Q. What is the difference between the state and federal report cards?

A. Florida's report card annually gives each public school a letter grade based on student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in reading, writing, math and science. Those FCAT results are also used to compute the federal report card's Adequate Yearly Progress.

Q. How is the state school grade figured?

A. Schools earn points for each percentage point of their students scoring at or above acceptable achievement levels in each FCAT category. They also earn points if a percentage of students make acceptable gains. If students in the bottom quarter of the school make gains, the school also earns points. High schools can receive 10 bonus points if half the juniors and seniors who retake the 10th grade FCAT pass.

A school loses a letter grade if at least 50 percent of its bottom quarter of students are not deemed to make sufficient growth in reading and/or math two years in a row. New this year: If the school has improved sufficiently over the two years, it will not lose the letter grade.

Q. How is the federal Adequate Yearly Progress determined?

A. All students in a school, including eight subgroups, must meet certain proficiency standards. The subgroups are black, Hispanic, Asian, white, American Indian, economically disadvantaged, limited English and students with disabilities. One child may count in more than one category. To be proficient, a student must score in the top three of five FCAT levels.

In 2007-08, schools had to show 58 percent proficient in reading and 62 percent in math in each subgroup. In 2008-09, the percentage will be 65 in reading and 68 in math. Also, 95 percent of students in all subgroups must be tested. No D or F schools can meet the federal mark.

Q. Why do school grades matter?

A. Schools graded A, and those that improve a letter grade from the previous year, receive about $85 per student, most of which goes to staff bonuses.

Q. What else is different this year?

A. Although students took the multiple choice FCAT writing test, that portion did not count this year for school grades and that portion won't be given in the future.

Q. Why does Adequate Yearly Progress matter?

A. Besides perception, it doesn't -- unless the school receives federal Title I money, which is given to schools with a high percentage of students from poor families. In that case, failure to make adequate yearly progress two consecutive years means families may transfer their children to schools without sanctions. After missing the mark three years, students from low-income families may receive private tutoring at taxpayer expense from a designated list of providers.

Q. What is different this year?

A. The U.S. Department of Education has granted Florida flexibility to implement different consequences for schools that don't make Adequate Yearly Progress for six years. Details are being worked out. Florida will also get more Title I money than it did in 2007-08 after a cut last year that will be used for private tutoring, allowing more children to participate in that program. About 40,000 to 50,000 Hillsborough students -- mostly elementary -- are expected to be eligible for private tutoring services in 2008-09. If demand exceeds funding, a priority system based on academic need kicks in.


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