Florida has come far in the classroom, arguably making more academic progress in the past 15 years than any other state.
We have done that by slowly increasing academic expectations along the way. You can plot the progress out on a chart. When expectations were raised, school grades dropped. As teachers and students adjusted, the grades went back up.
The alternative to moving forward is stagnation.
But throughout this process, school superintendents have consistently sought to weaken the grading formula or even suspend grades altogether.
In that regard, it hardly is surprising that the Florida Association of District School Superintendents is calling for a suspension of grades for the recently completed school year. For those of us who have been around a while, it is the same-old, same-old.
I appreciate the hard work by our school districts. And Florida is blessed with some very good superintendents. But had we listened to them in the past, we certainly would have not made the progress that we are witnessing today.
Accountability is hard for adults. The lack of it can be devastating to children, particularly the most disadvantaged.
As much progress as we’ve made, it is not enough. Far too many of our students still lack the critical thinking skills and in-depth knowledge required for success after high school.
Fifteen years ago it was a daunting challenge just to get the majority of our students to the graduation ceremony with a basic foundation of knowledge.
That no longer is sufficient. Now we face the daunting challenge of ensuring students are proficient in their knowledge – that they are equipped to transition out of high school into college or a meaningful career.
When you are held accountable for high school graduation, but not held accountable for what comes next, the unfortunate result is that too many students are not prepared for what comes next.
Setting proficient knowledge as the benchmark in core subjects creates an accountability standard that addresses this shortcoming. We now have an opportunity to do that during Florida’s transition to new, more rigorous state assessments. All we have to do is set the passing scores at a level that reflects true mastery of the academic material being tested.
Admittedly, this is a great challenge. But the purpose of public education is not to create security for adults and false impressions for parents. It is to give children a foundation upon which they can build a future.
As the State Board of Education considers new proficiency standards, I hope the members keep this in mind.
John Winn is a 35-year educator and teacher, former Florida Commissioner of Education and serves as a member of the Florida Board of Trustees for the Foundation for Florida’s Future.