Saturday, Apr 19, 2014
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Education chief wants school grade safety net extended


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TALLAHASSEE - A school's annual report card won't drop by more than one letter grade under a recommendation released Friday by the state's top education official. In a letter to state Board of Education members, Education Commissioner Tony Bennett advised extending the "temporary safety net" provision that limits year-to-year decreases to one letter grade. His recommendation wasn't "made to soften the blow of higher standards or to reduce the number of failing schools, but rather to advance the best policy for Florida's students," Bennett wrote. The provision was first enacted last year in anticipation of significant drops because of stricter evaluation standards. The board meets Tuesday; school grades are expected to be released by the end of this month. At the end of the school year, Florida schools receive A-to-F letter grades based on how students perform on standardized tests. For 2011-12, 53 schools received F grades out of 3,186 rated, according to the Department of Education. The state is moving from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests to the even more rigorous Common Core academic rating system in 2014-15. Common Core has been introduced gradually into Florida classrooms since 2011. This past year's FCAT had tougher reading, math and science standards, which resulted in fewer students scoring on grade level. Superintendents around the state had lobbied for the extension, saying big grade drops because of testing changes would hurt school systems' credibility. "The department understands the superintendents' concerns that multiple changes to performance expectations, grade calculations and other variables ... may have contributed to a reduction in clarity," Bennett wrote.But he also warns that performance expectations will only be higher under Common Core.School officials in the Tampa Bay area couldn't be reached because districts are on a Friday-off summer schedule. A call to a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the state's teachers union, wasn't immediately returned. The idea behind Common Core testing is to set more uniform standards. Forty-five states use the system. Advocates say the new standards will help students get into college and better compete in the national and global job market. The Common Core curriculum stresses writing and literacy in particular.

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