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New Grading System in Florida Wouldn't Grade Special Ed. Schools

As part of a larger plan to rework the grading of schools in Florida, state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has said that schools exclusively serving students with disabilities wouldn't be graded. Too many would fail.

The commissioner agreed to that exemption after an outcry by some parents, who feared many of these schools would earn Fs under the state accountability system if they were graded. Florida's school superintendents also support not grading those schools.

The Sunshine State is changing the way it has graded schools—a practice in place for over a decade—in part to meet its obligations to the federal Department of Education. The state has to change its grading system to get a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.

But not all advocates of children with disabilities are satisfied with the state backing off from the plan to grade specialized schools for students with disabilities.

The Florida Association of Special Education Attorneys is among them.

"If there is no accountability for schools that serve only disabled students (or alternative and second chance schools that are disproportionately populated by students with
disabilities, identified or not), schools will continue to have an incentive to place children in these more restrictive environments," the group said in a statement Monday. (The Florida Board of Education was wrestling with the changes to the grading system today, but as I type they are deciding whether to try to buy more time to make their decision.) "We instead urge that there be incentives to serve these students effectively so they can learn in regular classrooms in their local schools, participate in extracurricular activities, and make friends with students who are not disabled."

In a list of questions and answers about the changes, the Florida Department of Education said they would monitor districts and schools and review student placements "to ensure that students are not placed in center schools inappropriately."

At the same time, the new grading system proposes to do a better job of including students with disabilities and English-language learners whose test scores have often been excluded from the state grading system at traditional public schools.

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