TALLAHASSEE — The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to extend a policy preventing schools from dropping by more than a letter grade on their state-issued report cards through the 2014-15 school year, despite the complaints of some board members.
The board voted 4-2 to continue the policy, which was first used in the report cards issued following the 2011-12 school year and continued this year as superintendents said a slew of changes to Florida’s accountability system made it hard to tell what was causing unusual drops in school grades.
Board members approved the change as an amendment to a package of rule revisions that state Department of Education officials described as technical. But the move drew concern even from some of the members who ended up voting for the plan, and particularly from those who opposed it.
Kathleen Shanahan, who is set to leave the board at the end of the year, called the move to amend the plan onto the rule changes “too cute by half.” She also pointed out that by the time the plan expired, a proposal that was originally intended to be temporary will have lasted for four years.
“A four-year safety net becomes a bureaucracy, in my opinion,” Shanahan said.
By extending the policy until the grades issued after the 2014-15 school year, the policy would buffer schools through the transition to a new testing regime under the “Common Core State Standards.” The new tests are expected to kick in during the 2014-15 year.
“I do think that it is more important on that final year (of the transition),” said Board Chairman Gary Chartrand.
The state is still trying to determine which tests to use under Common Core, after Gov. Rick Scott ordered the education agency to begin disentangling itself from a multistate consortium that has developed tests under the new educational benchmarks.
But Patricia Levesque, executive director of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, knocked the school-grading move in a statement issued later Tuesday.
“Florida is in a period of transition to higher standards, and stability and transparency during these times is key,” she said. “That transparency provides valuable information on the state of student learning — what matters most — even when it’s not what we want to hear.”
The debate over Common Core has lingered over the board’s actions in recent weeks, after Scott issued an executive order regarding how the state would implement the new standards and measure student learning under them. Some conservative activists fear that the initiative, which was created in a state-led process and has been adopted by about four dozen states, could lead to too much federal interference in local education.
Following Scott’s order, the board also voted not to adopt a series of “appendices” to Common Core, including items like reading lists or suggested tasks for students. Shanahan also questioned that move, saying the appendices could help teachers.
“I don’t know why we’re disarming the teachers,” she said.