It was 1999 when then-Gov. Jeb Bush achieved his biggest priority, the “A-plus plan,” which changed the way we have thought about schools in Florida ever since.
The law said schools should get letter grades so parents could quickly and easily understand how well they were doing. The grades are high stakes now, because if schools perform poorly for long enough the state can force districts to take drastic steps, such as closing them.
Twenty years after the law was passed, the school districts in South Florida have a lot to celebrate.
The Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe county school districts all earned their second A in a row, according to grades released Thursday from the state Department of Education. Broward County Public Schools got a B, but the district was just one percentage point shy of an A.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho reflected on the achievement during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the district headquarters in downtown Miami.
“What we proved is that the theory of action, the way we approach this work actually works,” Carvalho said.
“For years, you see the reduction of F schools: Back in 1999, 26 F schools … down to zero three years in a row.”
There are zero Miami-Dade public schools with an F rating now, although several were rated “I” for incomplete, so it’s possible that could change if the state compiles enough information to assign letter grades to those schools. And while there have been no traditional public schools in the county with Fs the last two years, there have been privately run charter schools rated as failing.
Another achievement: This year, the Miami-Dade district all but eliminated D-rated schools. There’s only one traditional public school that earned a D, and Carvalho said he plans to appeal the rating. Five charter schools are Ds.
School grades can be misleading, though. Over the 20 years the state has been giving out letter grades to schools, officials have moved the bar and changed the way they’re calculated several times.
And a lot of the emphasis is placed on students’ improvement. So schools can earn good grades even if close to half of their students fail state tests.
You can find the grades for all schools and districts, plus information about how they're calculated, here.