Florida Releases Achievement Rankings
article by Florida Teacher | January 24, 2012
The Florida Department of Education released its new rankings and grades of the 67 Florida school districts. The ranking’s implementation is aimed at providing a “user friendly” way for the public to gauge school progress. However, the list, a first of its kind, has garnered both support and criticism as school officials see the list potentially stigmatizing poor scoring districts.
Using the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) scores, the list gives each district a grade and then ranks them from 1 to 67. Ranking in the top five, in order, are St. John’s County School District, Santa Rosa County School District, Martin County School Disrict, Sarasota County School District, and Gilchrist County School District.
Supporters of the list, including Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, claim that the rankings will allow the public to understand where their tax dollars are going, and increase accountability with lower ranking schools.
“We all wish to ensure students have the opportunity to get a good education that will prepare them for a good job,” Scott said in a written statement. “Ranking school districts by performance allows taxpayers to see their investment in education at work.”
Robinson explained that the list was created to spark conversation about the various issues that would contribute to a lower score and not to stigmatize lower ranking districts.
“Are there challenges with poverty and socio-economic challenges? Absolutely,” Robinson said. “The ranking isn't going to make that any worse.”
However, critics say that the ranking will do just that and stigmatize those lower ranking districts.
Critics worry that by using FCAT scores to rank schools, many other factors that contribute to lower scores will be overlooked. For example, students from districts in areas of lower economic status generally have lower FCAT scores.
Seminole County Superintendent Bill Vogel voiced his disapproval of the rankings, in spite of his district ranking in the top 10 at number seven. This is because the state does not focus solely on FCAT scores, but the newly-released rankings do. He explains that a bottom-of-the-list ranking could be devastating for a district.
“I'm concerned that it does not accurately reflect the performance of students across the state Florida,” Vogel said to The Orlando Sentinel. “Our teachers don't rank the lowest students in their classroom. They do everything they can to make sure they're performing at the highest levels possible.”
As an alternative to the rankings, The Tampa Bay Times has released a separate listing that measures the FCAT progress a school district has made over the past ten years both in math and in reading. These rankings present a different picture.
For example, Dade County School District, the states largest school district, ranks 37 in the Florida DOE list. But on the Tampa Bay Times adjusted list has them ranked seventh in math progress and second in reading progress.
These adjusted lists point toward potential inaccuracies in representing the actual progress and achievement of school districts, and has some experts wanting to do away with the rankings all together.
Sherman Dorn, an education professor at the University of South Florida, explained to The Tampa Bay Times that while the rankings have a competitive appeal they can distort through oversimplification. He cautioned that the scores can say more about who is doing the ranking rather than explaining what is actually going on in schools.
“[Scott’s office] doesn't care about the method, they just want the attention,” Dorn said to The Tampa Bay Times. “It's a Lady Gaga strategy.”
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