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Florida legislators earn an A

• Lauren Chianese

Florida schools will replace the FCAT next year with assessments that measure in-depth knowledge and critical thinking. As part of that process, Florida lawmakers are changing the state’s system for grading schools, creating a grading formula that is simpler and easier to understand for parents and the public.

A-F school grading has improved Florida schools by rewarding success and identifying failure, with disadvantaged children the prime beneficiaries. It is a major reason why Florida is one of the nation’s leaders in closing the poverty achievement gap.

When grading began in 1999, the grades reflected how many students were performing at grade level in reading and math. By 2002, the formula included student learning gains, with an emphasis on the lowest performing students.  This created a balance between performance and learning gains that allowed every school the opportunity to earn an A.

Fast forward to the present and this simple system has become muddled. Add-ons and changes have turned a straightforward grading system into a complex formula making it more difficult for the public to understand.

Now, Florida legislators are considering bills in both chambers, SB 1642 and HB 7117, to take the grade calculations back to the basics.

These bills are similar to the plan Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart recommended last month. They would base grades on objective student performance and learning gains data.

For those interested in details, this is a look at how high schools now are graded and what the changes could look like:


Current High School Grades Model

(This slide is from Commissioner Stewart’s presentation to the House Education Committtee on February 20, 2014.)

Proposed High School Grades Model

(This slide is from Commissioner Stewart’s presentation to the House Education Committtee on February 20, 2014.)

There are slight differences between the House and Senate bills, but both restore simplicity and a focus on the fundamentals to the grading formula.

If passed, a new formula would go into effect in the 2014-15 school year when the state moves to higher academic standards, known as the Florida Standards, and the new assessments that will measure student progress in meeting them.  The grades issued in that year will not carry any consequences for schools, giving them a chance to adjust to the changes.

Florida was the first state to use an A-F grading system and it has been hugely successful. Schools that had been neglected for decades finally received attention, leading to significant progress by the students in them. Early-grade illiteracy rates have plummeted, graduation rates are rapidly rising, achievement gaps are narrowing and Florida has become one of the top states in Advanced Placement participation and passage rates. (You can read more about Florida’s Education Revolution here.)

Commissioner Stewart and the Legislature are ensuring this success will continue.

About the author

Lauren Chianese @lechianese

Lauren Chianese is the Director of External Affairs for theFoundation for Florida’s Future and leads the Community Engagement team. Prior to joining the Foundation for Florida’s Future, Lauren was the SeniorPolicy Analyst for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Education. Lauren started her career as a 2002 Teach For America corps member teaching middle school, and has since committed to working to ensure education equity for all children. She has had the opportunity to work for Teach For America, Coro Southern California, City Year Los Angeles and the University of Southern California's ReadersPlus program in pursuit of this goal. Lauren was born in Pittsburgh, PA and grew up in Florida. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and the University of Florida. She currently serves on the Heart of Central Florida United Way, Building Safe Communities through Education Cabinet and teaches dance in Orlando. Contact Lauren at