Florida’s education reformers should acknowledge and fix their own mistakes

There is no defense for the latest blemish on Florida’s school accountability system. And it’s incumbent upon those who have built and supported that system to quickly acknowledge oversight and management issues within the state Department of Education and ensure the proper steps are taken for a fix.

After the problems with the state writing test in May, it’s hard to believe what has now been widely reported: The state got more than 200 school grades wrong, evidently because it forgot to calculate one of the new elements in its revised grading formula. With all due respect to the hard-working, well-intentioned people in DOE, that’s a bit maddening. To make matters worse, the state announced the grade changes in a press release, emailed after 10 p.m. Friday, that didn’t own up to errors but instead referred to “preliminary revisions” discovered during a “continuous review process.”

A state that has rightly set a high bar for its schools, its students and its teachers obviously has to set a high bar for its own piece of the education bureaucracy. Florida’s education leaders have given more than lip service to terms like “data driven” and “evidence based” and “no excuses.” But in this case, the data isn’t right. And the evidence suggests that honest mistake is no longer a credible excuse.

Critics are using this mishap to shore up their call for a roll-back of Florida’s ed reforms. What a shame for Florida’s kids if they succeed. Standardized tests and school grades are imperfect tools. But in Florida, they’ve been used effectively to put a bigger spotlight and more focus on student achievement, particularly for low-income and minority kids. For years now, one credible, independent analysis after another has found Florida students in the national vanguard in terms of academic progress. Three positive reports have surfaced in the past six weeks alone (see here, here and here).

It’s not fair that DOE’s successes are overlooked and its mistakes amplified. It’s not fair that its critics are held to a lower standard. But this is the environment that Florida’s ed reformers live in, and it’s not likely to change any time soon. At the end of the day, they should continue to be guided by the evidence, no matter how much it is ignored by critics. Or, in this case, how much it points to their own shortcomings.