Florida state Senator Don Gaetz is pushing a bill that would grade high schools by measures other than just the state test, the FCAT. Gaetz, a Republican, said that "only about half of high-school students take the FCAT in any given year, yet the grade for the school is determined by what half the students do." The proposed bill would base 50 percent of high-school grades on the FCAT while adding other accountability measures to the mix: a school's graduation rate, student participation in AP and IB courses, and SAT or ACT results. It has bipartisan backing, and Governor Charlie Crist indicated his support, saying, "It sounds like a smart thing to do." Indeed it does, but one wonders how Florida will ensure, for example, that its graduation-rate calculations (notoriously sketchy) are valid, that schools are not manipulating the numbers, and that the inclusion of SAT scores won't create a perverse incentive for schools to dissuade students of middling academic achievement from taking college entrance-exams. In short, lawmakers must be wary of unintended consequences. Done right, Gaetz's proposals will strengthen Sunshine State accountability. Enacted thoughtlessly, though, his changes could weaken it.
"Gaetz: Alter school performance measure," by Donna Vavalla, Panama City News Herald, March 13, 2008
"Lawmakers look to lessen schools' reliance on FCAT," by Gary Fineout, Miami Herald, March 13, 2008