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Senate releases bill to revamp school grading formula

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday filed a key bill that will allow lawmakers to tweak the controversial school grading formula.

SPB 7060 is pretty much identical to state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's proposal for revamping the A-F grading system.

Stewart has suggested simplifing the formula by removing bonus points and the so-called triggers that automatically cause a school grade to drop. She also wants to remove some graduation rates and college readiness measures from the formula used to evaluate high schools.

On Thursday, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg called Stewart's plan a "starting point" for a larger discussion.

Legg, R-Trinity, said he spent the week talking to superintendents about the formula. He plans to address some of their lingering concerns on Tuesday, when the proposed bill comes before the Senate Education Committee.

Among the issues lawmakers will tackle: making sure the formula is fair to English-language learners and that it adequately addresses student growth.

Some superintendents, including Nikolai Vitti in Duval County, have also warned against oversimplifying the formula used to grade high schools. "The high school experience should be more than state assessments, but clear metrics linked to life after high school," Vitti wrote in a letter to the State Board of Education earlier this month.

Legg said he will consider that point, too.

"It's that balancing act of having a simplistic, easy-to-understand accountability system, but at the same time, ensuring that it measures the things we want it to measure," he said. 

The Education Committee chairman would also like to see language addressing testing for special-needs students. The issue has been a hot topic in Tallahassee after the mother of a brain-damaged Orlando boy had to convince the Orange County School Board her son could not take the state assessments. The boy died this month.

The school grading formula has come under fire in recent months for being overly complicated and essentially meaningless to parents. Grassroots parent groups, along with the statewide teachers union, have called for a moratorium on the grading program.

Any tweaks to the formula would require legislative action.

Senate President Don Gaetz, however, doesn't want lawmakers meddling in school grades. 

"I don't think that the legislature should develop a formula for school grades," he told the Herald/Times last week. "That's why we have a Board of Education. That's why we have an education commissioner. They've taken a great deal of input."

Gaetz said Stewart had done a good job of "cleaning out the underbrush of a school grading system that had too much legislative involvement."

"I support the commissioner in the proposal that she's developed," he said. "I would hope that the legislature would not try to superimpose our judgement on what the Board of Education has done. I would hope that we would ratify what the Board of Education has proposed."