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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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FCAT penalty stays in place
Schools will continue to lose a letter grade if struggling students don't raise scores.
By RON MATUS
Published June 20, 2007
[Times photo: Steve Cannon]
Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg (left) had recommended the board suspend the penalty for this year's school grades, while alternatives are considered later. She said the department had no plans for backing away from a system that put more focus on struggling students.
The state Board of Education on Tuesday rejected a plan to suspend a portion of the school-grading formula that puts a bigger spotlight on struggling students.
Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg made the recommendation last week -- in the aftermath of the debacle over botched Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores -- and, in so doing, suddenly put the embattled Department of Education on the side of many teachers, principals and superintendents.
But board members, meeting in Miami, said they did not think it was right to link the issue of school grades with the FCAT fiasco. They also said the recommendation was too big a change to consider on a whim, with little time for input and debate.
"I don't think we should be making such a radical change to our policy" on short notice, said board member Roberto Martinez, a Miami lawyer.
The provision in question is a key part of the accountability system built by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. It penalizes schools a full letter grade if a majority of students in their bottom quarter -- often, poor and minority students -- do not make academic gains on the FCAT. Supporters say it forces schools to find a way to better help students who once slipped through the cracks. Critics counter that it may not be getting the desired result.
Last year, 98 schools in the state, of nearly 3, 000, felt the sting of the penalty. Most of them missed by 5 percentage points or less, and some were penalized even though they had more bottom-quarter students making progress.
Meanwhile, Blomberg noted, more than 900 schools were not slapped with a penalty even though they had fewer bottom-quarter students showing gains.
Blomberg had recommended the board suspend the penalty for this year's school grades, while alternatives are considered later. She said the department had no plans for backing away from a system that put more focus on struggling students.
"That's probably the most misunderstood recommendation," she said. She also said state education officials must respond to reasonable concerns or "our moral authority ... will be eroded."
Despite the vote, several board members said they welcomed a broader and more critical look at school grades and other FCAT-related issues. Some suggested workshops with more input and discussion from stakeholders.
"Frankly, I'm prepared to look at it entirely," Martinez said of the grading system. "I'm not scared" to have it reviewed and bettered.
In related developments, the board agreed that the Education Department should calculate this year's school grades without the third-grade reading scores, which were bungled on last year's FCAT. An independent review into that issue is expected to take two to three months.
Meanwhile, Blomberg said school grades could be out next week.
Ron Matus can be reached at (727) 893-8873 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local member reappointed
The Board of Education's newest member is ... still a member.
Gov. Charlie Crist re-appointed Akshay Desai to the seven-member board late Monday, on the eve of a 45-day deadline to either reappoint him or let him fade away.
The governor originally appointed the St. Petersburg physician in January, but state senators balked at confirming Desai because of concerns about his company, Universal Health Care Insurance. Universal had drawn heated criticism from the state insurance commissioner, who earlier this year even recommended that the company be liquidated.
The decision to reappoint means Desai can hold the seat until he is considered by next year's Senate.