Florida high school grades rise again in 2011
Published: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 6:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 6:47 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida's public high schools got better grades again in the second year since the state added non-test factors such as graduation rates, college preparation and participation in advanced classes to their annual assessments, education officials announced Wednesday.
Seventy-eight percent of the state's high schools received an A or B in 2011. That compared to 71 percent in the first year of the new grading system when the increase was even more dramatic. Just 41 percent of high schools received an A or B in 2009.
Only six high schools got an F in 2011. That was five fewer than in 2010.
Education officials aren't worried about grade inflation, though.
“The purpose is not to try to end up with some predefined idea of how many A's is too many or not enough, but it is to incentivize and reward movements toward what is valuable in our school system, and that's outcomes for kids,” said Deputy Education Commissioner Kris Ellington.
Schools that received an A or improved by a letter grade will receive cash awards of $70 per student.
High school grades were based entirely on scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test until 2010. That's still the case for elementary and middle schools, which received their grades in June.
Since then, though, the FCAT has accounted for just half of each high school's grade with the other factors combining to make up the other 50 percent.
The upward trend in grades could end this year, though, because the State Board of Education has approved a new scoring system that will make it harder to pass the FCAT and the panel is considering other modifications in the grading procedure.
Ellington said it's hard to predict what will happen, but she noted that 2011 was the first year students took a new FCAT with higher standards.
“The second year of a test typically you see considerable improvement, and so even though the standards are higher we expect students will do better,” Ellington said.
Another change that could make it more difficult to get a good grade, though, will be a switch to federal graduation criteria. The state traditionally has reported higher graduation rates than the federal formula produces for Florida because the latter counts only standard diplomas.
Of 474 high schools graded, 147, or 31 percent, received an A. That's just two more than in 2010, not enough to change the percentage. Another 91 could have received an A but failed to meet their benchmarks for at-risk students. The biggest growth came among schools earning a B — 224, or 47 percent, compared to 188, or 40 percent, in 2010.
Seventy-two schools, or 15 percent, received a C. That's three more than in 2010, when the percentage also was 15.
The biggest reduction was at the D level — 25 schools, or just 5 percent. That compares to 57 schools and 12 percent in the previous year.
Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said average points received for FCAT scores actually declined, so all of the improvement came in the new grading areas, particularly participation and success in advanced placement, industrial certification and dual enrollment college courses.
The high school grades were released about a month later than last year and six months after elementary and middle school grades were reported.
It takes longer to gather and analyze data on graduation rates and the other new factors that go into the high school grades and the process spilled into the November and December holiday periods, causing further delay, Ellington said.
“It didn't go quite as smoothly as last year,” she said but noted officials are working on a plan to speed up the process this year.
The six schools receiving an F accounted for just 1 percent of the total. That compares to 11 schools, or 2 percent, in 2010.
Only one of the 2010 failing schools again received an F. One closed, two weren't graded because they didn't have at least 20 full-year enrolled students with current and prior FCAT scores, one improved to a D, another went to a C and one jumped to an A — Pasco County's Anclote High School in Holiday.
Anclote's students, though, didn't suddenly get that much smarter. Their school received an F in 2010 because it was graded only on its FCAT score. Anclote's improvement on the FCAT would have earned it enough points only to get a D, but it shot to an A when the other components of the scoring system were added.
The four remaining F-rated schools from 2010 opted to receive an improvement rating instead of a grade because they are alternative schools. One, though, didn't have enough students with test scores to get a rating, two were rated “declining” and one was rated “maintaining.”