State receives B minus for public schools

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 11:49 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida's public schools scored above the national average in two of four categories and received an overall grade of B minus on an annual report card issued Wednesday by Education Week magazine. The national average overall grade was C plus.
The state received an A for standards and accountability, the same as last year, and a B minus in resource equity, a new category that shows Florida has relatively little disparity in spending per student among school districts. National averages in those categories were B minus and C plus.
"Florida has a particularly strong showing for accountability indicators," according to the Quality Counts 2006 report. "The state sanctions and provides assistance to all low performing schools . . . and provides rewards to high-performing or improving schools."
State education officials largely welcomed the report, and pointed out that only seven other states received an A for standards and accountability.
"We're not going to rest on our laurels and look at this A and stop working," K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke said. "We're certainly going to continue to refine the accountability system."
Florida was slightly below the national average of C plus in teacher quality improvement and school climate, posting Cs in each. Florida had the same grades in both categories last year.
The state loses teacher improvement points because all prospective high school and middle school teachers are not required to have a college major, minor or equivalent course work in the subjects they will teach to get a beginning license.
For example, someone with a history degree may teach English.
Yecke said Florida requires new teachers to pass subject area tests to teach outside their fields and would have received a better rating if this factor had been considered in the report. She also said Florida ranked 16th nationally in the percentage of secondary teachers who majored in the subjects they are teaching.
Florida had a perfect score on school facilities and graded 80 percent for safety and class size, but the school climate grade was dragged down by poor performance in the subcategories of engagement, parent involvement and excessively large schools.
The report's assessment of school populations showed Florida has the nation's lowest percentage of students in elementary schools with less than 350 students, middle schools with less than 800, and high schools with less than 900.
Hanna Skandera, deputy education commissioner for accountability, research and measurement, said Florida is making strides to cut class size, as required by a state constitutional amendment, and that is a more significant improvement that reducing school size.
Sun staff writer Tiffany Pakkala contributed to this report.
The report also said Florida's fourth- and eighth-grade pupils rank below the national average in National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NEAP, proficiency rankings. Florida is 33rd among the 50 states with a 29.4 percent proficiency rating. That compares to a national average of 30.6 percent.
However, Florida was cited as being one of only four states that significantly increased fourth-grade reading scores from 1992 through 2005. The report also recognized Florida for closing gaps between black and white fourth-graders in reading and math and between impoverished and other fourth graders in reading.
"Florida's black fourth-graders gained 17.8 points in reading between 1992 and 2005, and 35 points in math" on a 500 point scale, the report noted. The math gain was nearly twice the national average.
Florida's high school graduation rate of 57 percent ranked 49th among the 50 states and District of Columbia as compiled by Education Week's parent organization, Editorial Projects in Education, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.
Florida education officials have challenged the accuracy of the graduation rankings in the past, contending their own statistics show a much higher rate of 71.6 percent.
Sun staff writer Tiffany Pakkala contributed to this report.

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