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Jeff Eakins: School grades just one part of whole education picture

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

What do school grades really mean this year? It’s a question I’ve been asked whenever I meet parents, employees, and attend community events.

The way the state is calculating school grades for the 2014-2015 school year only, is very different than it has been in years past, or will be in future years. The state has always touted its accountability system as a system with integrity that has kept a balance between student proficiency and student growth. However, that is not the case for the 2014-2015 grading system.

The school grading system has always incorporated high levels of student proficiency as well as rewarding high levels of student growth. In the future, both student proficiency and growth will be included in grade calculations. For this year only, student growth is not a part of grade calculations.

Accounting for student growth is a vital component in the school grade calculation. It levels the accountability playing field for schools by allowing them to not only show how many students are on or above grade level proficiency, but it allows schools to show how many students they have supported to make at least a year’s worth of academic growth.

At many high-need schools, teachers work diligently to accelerate learning and help students who may arrive at their classroom door two to three years behind grade level.

These dedicated teachers are able to help their students make tremendous learning gains in one year. For 2014-2015 these learning gains will be omitted from the grading system, therefore negating the incredible work of teachers and the progress made by students in our schools.

Since the learning gains will not be used this year, we know the grades that will be released are not a complete picture of our schools’ successes. For that reason, I encourage you to speak to your school principal about the gains that are happening at your school.

Based on our projections, we are expecting lower grades in our elementary schools.

Interestingly, these are the schools where we see the greatest annual learning gains, which is why it’s so important that the learning gains are included when calculating school grades. We are proud of the successes shown by our students and the remarkable work by our teachers and staff in our schools. Our teachers, leaders, and support staff know that there is much more work to do to ensure success for our students as we prepare them for life. So when grades are released this week that will be our focus and part of our Strategic Plan.

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Jeff Eakins is the superintendent of Hillsborough County Schools.

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