Florida led the way in creating a system where schools and students are judged by test scores. Florida has seen some test score gains, but it is nowhere near the top of the national field in national examinations. How many hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on testing, accountability, grading, and choice, with little to show for it?

 

Now parents and educators are at odds about how to straighten out a system that few have faith in. Jeb Bush may say on the campaign trail that he modernized education in Florida, but not many in Florida would agree with him.

 

The state board of education just agreed to make tests harder to pass, but easier for a school to get an A.

 

On one side is the business community, demanding higher standards and harder tests. On the other are parents and educators, complaining about the “test-and-punish” strategy. Educators are calling for a total overhaul.

 

But the biggest problem is:

 

“the growing lack of confidence in the 16-year-old education accountability system.

 

“We still contend that our accountability system needs to have another look-see,” said Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning, echoing the state superintendents association’s position. “We need to review it in total, not just pieces.”

 

Groups promoting tougher standards expressed dismay after the board’s vote, suggesting the outcome presents a too-rosy picture of student and school performance. Those who see the current model as “test and punish” were equally disappointed, saying the board stuck to the status quo rather than looking for ways to improve beyond “raising the bar.”

 

Even board members acknowledged their effort was incomplete. Lacking learning gains data, they asked Stewart to restart the conversation in the summer, after students have completed their spring FSAs.

 

“New standards, a new assessment, rollout challenges, and an absence of learning gains all impact the results in ways that we can’t predict,” board member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey said. “It seems responsible for us to wait for a second set of more complete data … then step back and ask ourselves if our grading system is set correctly.”

 

The question of whether school grading accomplishes its stated task of improving schools has long been a focal point of Florida education politics. It came into stark relief in 2013, though, when former education commissioner Tony Bennett — one of the nation’s biggest promoters of accountability and grading — resigned his Florida post over a school grades scandal in his home state of Indiana.