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Rolly: The myth of Florida's school grade system

Published September 14, 2013 1:39 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Now that the Utah Legislature-inspired school grading system has been exposed for the joke that it is and lawmakers are spinning, ducking and finger-pointing to avoid accountability for their own ineptitude, it's time to debunk the myth that a similar system was adopted by Florida.

Utah conservatives who have attacked public schools for years like to trot out former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose initiative for school grading is credited for improving education. But they ignore other initiatives in that state that have done the same, including a citizen initiative to keep class sizes manageable.

They also fail to mention that Florida has moved the bar in its grading system several times, which by itself could account for perceived improvement.

An analysis in the Tampa Bay Times last June said the constant moving and tweaking of the grading criteria have eroded the entire system's credibility.

In Utah, it took legislative leaders about a week after the controversial school grades were released to call a meeting to talk about how to massage it. This was after Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and other leaders refused to meet with educators before posting the grades.

Now, having made utter fools of themselves with their grading system, legislators are talking about the very issues they refused to discuss with educators. If the legislative leaders are not embarrassed by what they did, they should be.

Take West High School, for example. It was named in a U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation's best schools. But Utah's flawed system gave it an F.

In a face-saving move, legislators called a meeting last Tuesday with education groups to discuss tweaking the grading system. But the omissions in the list of invitations indicate that those behind the grading criteria are still trying to game the system.

Not invited was Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, who has been vocal about the need for a more accurate grading system. She was part of the coalition meeting with Niederhauser before he pulled the plug on those meetings and let Utah Parents for Choice in Education, which advocates taxpayer funded private school vouchers, write the grading system bill.

Also shunned was the Utah PTA, whose public education advocacy has put it in the crosshairs of some of the Legislature's leading conservatives. Prominent among the invitees, however, was Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, who is responsible for this fiasco in the first place.

Given the imbalance, some education groups that were invited refused to attend, and instead sent a letter to bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who had referred anyone asking questions about the legislation to Clark.

The educators are asking Niederhauser to initiate a third-party evaluation of the grading law "to determine its statistical reliability and validity and to gauge the extent of its bias as it relates to students from poverty, with special needs or with language bariers."

In other words, they want objective evaluators, not led around by the nose by those with private school agendas. —