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Florida Students Deserve Higher Bar for Accountability

Florida students deserve the chance to succeed in their education, their careers and their lives.

Measuring how well our schools are doing is critical to their success. For years, Florida has had clear and transparent school grades. These grades have been used not only to grade our schools, but to provide support for how to improve them.

Legislative changes made in 2014 require a new A-F school grading scale to be put into place after proficiency "cut scores" for measuring student mastery of the new Florida Standards are established.

You may have heard concerns that the A-F grading system should be delayed for one year or, if a grade must be given, that schools receive an "incomplete" score for this year. I urge you to reject this. Studies have verified that the new tests accurately measure students' mastery of the new state standards and can be used to set school grades and help evaluate teacher performance.

The Legislature has already taken steps to make sure schools won't be punished for bad grades this year. The 2015 grades will provide a much-needed "baseline" — a starting point for the new, more rigorous Florida Standards and Florida Standards Assessment that will better prepare our students for success.

In the coming months, the State Board of Education will establish the achievement level cut scores for the Florida Standards Assessment. These cut scores are important — where they are set will greatly influence Florida's students' level of academic achievement and economic future.

Despite great progress, there are still an alarming number of students graduating high school without the skills necessary to succeed in college or in a global workplace. More than half of students entering two-year colleges and nearly one in five students entering four-year colleges are required to take remedial courses. One-third of U.S. employers report having difficulty filling open positions, with skilled trades consistently the hardest jobs to fill. The challenge will only get greater with time if we don't act now.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only commonly administered assessment used to review and compare student achievement and proficiency across all 50 states. The "proficiency gap" between NAEP reading and math and Florida's FCAT 2.0 reading and math in 2013 was more than 20 points. This means that more than 20 percent of Florida students who scored at the "proficient" level on FCAT 2.0 reading and math would not score at a "proficient" level on this national assessment.

This also means that we are misleading students and parents into believing that a large segment of students is college and career ready when, in fact, they are not. The state board can fix that by adopting cut scores that eliminate that gap and ensure that Florida proficiency levels more closely align with NAEP proficiency levels, even if it means fewer students initially pass the Florida Standards Assessment.

You have heard, and you will continue to hear from some naysayers, that setting higher cut scores is setting our students up for failure. I urge you to reject this argument, as well. We don't keep raising the bar because our students keep failing to reach it. Every time we raise the bar, our students respond with greater achievement gains. Florida businesses and corporations rely heavily on the public education system to provide graduates who have the knowledge and skills necessary to meet their workforce needs and that permit them to compete nationally and internationally.

What happens in our classrooms today will determine Florida's economic strength in the future. Florida TaxWatch commends our teachers and students for the hard work taking place in classrooms throughout Florida as we move to the next level of excellence.

Florida TaxWatch encourages the State Board of Education to set the cut scores at levels that will eliminate the gap with NAEP proficiency levels. This will ensure a brighter future for students, a better prepared workforce, and a stronger economy for all Floridians.

Dominic M. Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

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