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Why school grades measure poverty as much as student performance

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

When the latest “School Grades” were released last week, districts across the state scrambled to portray their results in the most favorable light possible: they focused on rules changes that led to a statewide drop in the proportion of A schools (Miami-Dade), or pointed out the number of schools that had held their A grades steady (Broward); they considered “A and B schools” together as a group.



School grades are letter grades not for students, but for schools, based largely on student scores on standardized tests.The rules for calculating the grades change every single year. One thing that stays the same is the fact that kids at F schools are far more likely from families living in poverty than kids at A schools.

Look at the data in almost any county in the state, and school grades go down as the number of students eating free and reduced price lunch goes up:



The Florida Channel


That’s true in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine just as it is in Florida.In a 2012 speech broadcast on C-SPAN, Jeb Bush called grades “a game changer” resulting in stories like this one, when a Florida mother approached him at the airport: “When our school grades came out and they were a D, it created an outcry” Bush said the mother told him. “And the principal got fired, and they started to listen to parents.  And that school is an A school now, and my kid is going to college.”

“That is what happens!” Bush told a meeting of his Foundation for Excellence Education to a long round of applause.

If there are schools that go from D or F to A, there aren’t that many of them. Statewide, the number of A schools has fallen by half over the last ten years; F schools have increased five times over. More than that, though, remember that school grades measure poverty just as much as student and staff performance.


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Rowan Moore Gerety