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Tampa Bay Tribune

Study: failing schools improved twice as much as other schools
February 16, 2001

News-Journal wire services

TALLAHASSEE -- The threat of being labeled a failure appears to motivate schools to do better, according to a new study that lends weight to arguments that Florida's school grading law is working.

The study, paid for by the state Department of Education, found that schools pegged with an "F" grade improved the next year more than twice as much as other schools.

The study, looked at schools rated as failing in 1999, primarily based on their scores on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, or FCAT.

If those schools would have failed again in 2000, they would have become eligible for school vouchers, under a 1999 law that is the hallmark of Gov. Jeb Bush's education plan.

The study, led by Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and a research associate at a Harvard University education center, found that all schools did better on the FCAT from 1999 to 2000, regardless of their grades the first year.

"But we saw this phenomenon where the lower the prior score was, the bigger the improvement," said Greene. "Simply being monitored, that is inspirational to do better."

The failing schools gained about 18 points on FCAT reading scores and 26 points in math. In contrast, schools that got a "C" in 1999 improved about 4.5 points on average in reading, and about 12 points in math.

The president of the state's teachers' union, which has opposed Bush's testing and voucher plan, said the study failed to take into account the extra money and attention given to failing schools, something teachers have pushed for all along.

"We've paid attention to these schools and we've infused money into the situation," said Maureen Dinnen, president of the Florida Education Association. "It isn't that teachers were being lazy and shiftless before (schools were labeled). The other ingredient was, 'What do you need?' The money."

The teachers' union and other voucher opponents also say that the FCAT is a poor way to measure which schools need help, and an unfair way to determine who is eligible for vouchers.

Vouchers let parents of children at failing schools take their children out of the school and use tax dollars instead to send them to private schools.

Opponents of Bush's plan have said that teachers can teach to the test, and that it changes too frequently to adequately measure students' achievement.

But the Manhattan Institute Study also concluded that the FCAT scores compared favorably with scores on another test for which there weren't such high stakes, a test called the Stanford Nine.

Bush touted the study as proof that his plan is a good one.

"This new study provides clear evidence of what our schools and students are capable of achieving," Bush said in a statement reacting to the study.

"It is clear that the state's unprecedented attention to children in low performing schools is producing remarkable results."

©2001 Tampa Bay Tribune



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