School Grades Q and A

Q. Why do we grade schools?

Florida grades its schools to show how well students in each school are learning what they need to know to be successful. Assigning a letter grade (A-F) is a way to report a school’s effectiveness in a manner everyone can understand. Used along with rewards for improving schools and support for schools that need to improve, grading schools encourages them to make student achievement their primary focus. Grading schools has a track record of success in Florida; our students have shown continuing achievement gains since the first year of school grading in 1999.

Additional information on school grades for all of Florida’s schools and districts is available at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org.

Q. Isn’t it unfair to label a school as failing?

No. An “F” is a way to identify schools that need additional assistance, support, and direction in order for students at these schools to have the same opportunities for growth and success that exist for students in other schools. If Florida does not identify schools that are most in need of assistance and support, we would be failing the students attending those schools and the communities where those schools are located.

Q. How do we grade schools?

Florida grades schools using a point system based on student achievement and progress. All schools are graded using state assessments that measure

  • Student performance in reading, math, science, and writing;
  • Student learning gains in reading and math; and reading and math learning gains for the lowest performing students.
  • Middle school grades also include participation and performance on high-school level end-of-course (EOC) assessments.

High school grades include measures based on overall and at-risk student graduation rates, participation in and performance on advanced coursework, and college readiness in reading and math.

For more information on the separate components of school grades, see the links to the School Grade Guide Sheet and the School Grades Technical Assistance Paper at the bottom of the Web page at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org.

Q. Won’t including students that are very far behind or students with disabilities or English language learners unfairly penalize a school?

Improving the progress of the lowest performing students has been a part of school grades for the past decade. Students with disabilities and English language learners often have additional needs for assistance in order to have the opportunity to learn and achieve, which is why it is especially important to include these students in the school grading formula. Beginning in 2011-12, the school grading formula will give extra weight (“extra credit”) for low-performing students who make greater-than-expected gains.

Q. When did we start grading schools?

The A-F school grading system began in 1999.

Q. How many A and B schools have there been?

The number and percentage of A and B schools have varied over the years. For most of the past decade, more than 70 percent of elementary and middle schools were graded A or B. For more information, see the “Press Packet” link at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org.

Q. How many D and F schools have there been?

The number and percentage of D and F schools have varied since school grading began. For most years during the past decade, less than 10 percent of elementary and middle schools were graded D or F. For more information, see the “Press Packet” link at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org.

Q. What support does the state give to D and F schools?

Schools that are graded D or F are classified as Focus and Priority schools in the state’s Differentiated Accountability system. These schools are targeted for additional assistance and support through the Regional Support System including professional development, supplemental academic services, reading coaches, and other support.

Q. What rewards does the state give to A schools or schools that improve their school grade?

The Florida School Recognition Program provides public recognition and financial awards to schools that have sustained high student performance or schools that demonstrate substantial improvement in student performance. Schools qualify for the award if they

  • receive a grade of “A”;
  • improve at least one letter grade; or
  • improve more than one letter grade and sustain the improvement the following school year; or
  • are designated as Alternative Schools and receive a school improvement rating of “Improving” or improve at least one level.

For 2011, each recognized school received $70 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student.

Q. Why do we no longer use Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)?

Florida no longer calculates and reports AYP outcomes, a federal measure of accountability, for schools because the state received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to base all school improvement requirements solely on school grade performance. In the past, AYP performance as well as school grade performance was used to determine school improvement measures. This resulted in conflicting and confusing information about school performance. Going forward, Florida will be able to use school grades as the sole basis for identifying Florida’s lowest performing schools – those schools most in need of support and assistance. AYP reporting will no longer be needed in classifying schools for school improvement purposes.

Q. How can I help my school if it earns a grade of D or an F?

Parents can help schools by becoming involved in their children’s education, keeping communications open with their children’s teacher(s), and participating in parent-teacher meetings and organizations. Here are some specific suggestions:

  • Equip your child with necessary school supplies.
  • Provide a home environment that encourages learning.
  • Encourage positive school feelings.
  • Meet with your child’s teacher.
  • Communicate regularly with your child’s teacher(s) by phone/letters.
  • Talk with your child about school activities every day.
  • Encourage your child’s efforts and be available for questions.
  • Insist that all homework assignments be completed.
  • Provide a quiet, well-lighted place to study.
  • Support the school in developing self-discipline in your child.
  • Encourage your child to read at home and monitor TV viewing.
  • Read with and let your child see you read.
  • Get a library card for your child.
  • Provide tutorial assistance for your child if needed.
  • Stay aware of what your child is learning.
  • Sign and return all papers to school.
  • Visit your child’s classroom.
  • Volunteer in a needed area at school.
  • Volunteer to assist on field trips.
  • Send materials or supply items to assist in classroom activities.
  • Attend at least three PTA/PTSO meetings a year
  • Become involved in planning school activities and fund raisers
  • Attend all parent-teacher conferences

Q. Why did my child’s school grade go down?

A school grade can decrease for a number of reasons but in general, the grade may go down if the school had a smaller percentage of students scoring at satisfactory levels on assessments or if a smaller proportion of the school’s students made expected learning gains. In terms of the calculation, changes in the school’s points total from the prior year to the current year can affect the assigned grade. Schools earn school grades points based on the percentage of students who score at certain levels on assessments and for the proportion of students who make expected learning gains. Here are some examples of changes in school performance resulting in a lower grade:

  • The school’s earned points total for all school grading measures declined from the previous year. A decline in points earned for one or more of the school grade measures can result in a lower point total for the school.
  • The school may have earned enough points for an A but did not test at least 95 percent of eligible students, a requirement for earning an A.

Detailed information on points totals for each school’s grade is provided in the downloadable Excel files titled “All Districts: Non-High Schools” and “All Districts: High Schools” at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org/. The interactive report at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org/default.asp allows users to review total school grade points for multiple years.

Q. How can my school get a better grade?

Schools can improve their school grade by focusing efforts on improving student achievement in areas of greatest need, which can be identified by looking at the school grade measures where the school earned the fewest points. Districts and schools can use the District Improvement and Assistance Plan and the School Improvement Plan to establish strategies and action steps to address those areas. There is a range of plans and support to help schools improve. Check with your school and district leadership and ask them about their plans.

Q. Why are we changing how schools are graded now? Wasn’t it working fine?

Florida’s school grading system has periodically changed over the years to include more students in the school grading system, to expand components measured for school grades, and to increase expectations for achievement by Florida’s students, teachers, and schools. While Florida’s students have shown increases in achievement during the period in which school grades have been in effect, there is still much room for improvement. And improvement will be needed if Florida’s workforce is to meet the challenges for attracting businesses and growing the state’s economy to provide the best outlook for all Floridians.

Recently, Florida has transitioned to higher academic standards and new assessments, which are now used in measuring school performance for school grades. In addition, Florida is now fully including all students in the school grade performance measures for reading, math, writing, and science – including students with disabilities and English language learners with at least one year of instruction in the U.S. As a result of this change, the U.S. Department of Education will allow Florida to discontinue use of the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) measure to determine school improvement requirements, so that the school grade will be the sole measure of a school’s progress. This change benefits Florida’s students, schools, teachers, and communities by simplifying requirements for school improvement and eliminating confusion about school performance.

Each time that Florida’s school grading system has changed to increase expectations, Florida’s schools have responded over time to raise student achievement, which is the primary goal of the school grading system. Increasing student academic achievement is the primary goal of the school grading system because reaching this goal means maximizing opportunities for Florida’s students to succeed on multiple levels: in education, in work and in life.

Q. What if my child attends a school that has received an F grade?

Your child may be eligible for an Opportunity Scholarship if he/she attended a school that received an F during the 2011-12 school year or is assigned to that school for the upcoming 2012-13 school year. Your school district will notify you within 15 days of your choices for other schools in your district. If other schools are at capacity, there may not be an option to transfer. Please call your school district office with any questions you may have or visit http://www.floridaschoolchoice.org/to learn more.

Q. What if my child attended a school that received a D three years in a row?

Your child may be eligible for an Opportunity Scholarship if he/she attended a school that received its third consecutive D during the 2011-12 school year or is assigned to that school for the upcoming 2012-13 school year. Your school district will notify you within 15 days of your choices for other schools in your district. If other schools are at capacity, there may not be an option to transfer. Please call your school district office with any questions you may have.

Q. Did including the special populations of English Language Learners (ELL) and Students with Disabilities (SWD) impact my child’s school grade?

Test scores for all full-year-enrolled students have an impact on school grades. Test scores for ELLs and SWDs have been included in learning gains in school grades since 2005. Beginning in 2011-12, scores for these students were also included in the current-year performance measures for math, reading, science, and writing. For information on the performance of students in these subgroups, you may want to check the AYP performance of subgroups using the School Accountability Reports site at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org/default.asp.

Additional information on subgroup performance will be available in a report on Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for 2012 that will be posted at http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org.

The performance of subgroups is also included in the School Public Accountability Reports at http://doeweb-prd.doe.state.fl.us/eds/nclbspar/index.cfm. These reports will be updated for 2012 this summer.

Q: Why does the department release high school grades in the fall instead of the summer?

Performance components other than state assessments are included in Florida high school grades (listed below). The department does not receive these data until the fall of each year. Once the data are collected, reviewed, and grades are calculated, the department makes the information available to the public.

  • Graduation rates (four-year federal rate; modified five-year rate),
  • Graduation rates for at-risk students,
  • Participation in accelerated coursework,
  • Performance in accelerated coursework,
  • Postsecondary readiness in reading and mathematics, and
  • Annual growth in performance of each of these components.