Where is the quality in Florida’s quality counts grade?
From the Palm Beach Post, By Jac Versteeg
We know from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is: 42.
A similar quest seeks to boil down the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Education to a single number or letter grade. But while the late “Hitchhiker’s Guide” author Douglas Adams was (probably) kidding, some politicians and education bureaucrats aren’t.
The Ultimate Answer for Florida apparently is: 6. Gov. Rick Scott and his usual amen chorus were ecstatic that the latest report from Quality Counts, which is affiliated with Education Week magazine, ranks Florida sixth. Although the Hitchhiker’s Guide provided the Ultimate Answer, it never spelled out the question. Gov. Scott, in contrast, thinks that the ranking answers this question: Is Florida’s education policy working? That No. 6 proves, the governor said, “that we’re taking the steps needed to ensure our students succeed.”
The FCAT was useful when the state used it to show which students needed help in reading, math and science. Then the state misused the FCAT to grade entire schools and school districts. Quality Counts grades the whole state and even the whole nation. Its a respected source, and its formula doesn’t rely totally on FCAT results. Still, that 6 is quite a stretch.
In any case, Florida’s details are not as shiny as that score might indicate to those, and there will be many, who look only at the number. Florida’s overall grade is B-minus. That looks good only because the country as a whole gets a C-plus. (Maryland was tops with a B-plus; South Dakota last with a D-plus.)
The Quality Counts ranking also succumbs to the “participation ribbon” syndrome by giving states like Florida extra credit for implementing an alleged accountability policy — like FCAT testing — without delving too deeply into how the accountability system works. Some educators say, for example, that Florida’s policy of holding back third-graders who flunk the reading FCAT inflates fourth-grade results on national tests, which have shown stellar improvement, primarily by keeping struggling readers in third grade while better readers take the fourth-grade assessments.
Quality Counts shows Florida improving its graduation rate, but the numbers are from 2008 and rank the state 44th. Plus, Florida gets a D-plus in school finance. Even so, the rush is on to show that our 6th-place ranking vindicates the FCAT, corporate vouchers, a charter school fixation and the latest merit pay scheme for teachers.
Gov. Scott did cite Florida’s No. 6 Quality Counts ranking last week when he announced that he will seek $2,500 across-the-board teacher raises. Previously, all signs of success were attributed to “reforms,” with teachers getting little or no credit. Of course, Gov. Scott began praising teachers when his 2014 opponent began looking like Charlie Crist, who is popular with teachers.
In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide,” the supercomputer Deep Thought required 7.5 million years to spit out its conclusion. It won’t take that long to sort out what Florida’s ranking from Quality Counts signifies. But educators and politicians need to dig into the details. Taking the time to do so is preferable to Tallahassee’s recent rush to claim that anything stamped “school choice” is the No. 1 answer.