The students at Orchard Villa Elementary School in Liberty City are too focused on their work to worry about their school's "D" ranking. The principal doesn't have that luxury.
"Our ranking goes down and it puts a stigma on the school, a stigma that I don't think we really deserve to have because our kids are improving and because the state standards continue to change, It doesn't reflect how are kids are improving," said Orchard Villa Principal Jennifer Escandell.
As she explains it, last year Orchard Villa's students improved in every academic area and the school would've earned a "C" grade, except that the state raised the bar in writing, and that dropped the school's ranking to a "D".
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says the state has made 39 changes to the school ranking system in the past 36 months. He thinks that's way too much, too fast, too soon.
"I advise parents to pay less attention to the school grade and more attention to the individual student's performance," Carvalho said. "I think our fixation on this very simplistic, letter grade designation needs to come to an end, there are better ways, more respectful ways of in fact understanding whether or not a child's learning."
The school grading system impacts teachers, too. Their take home pay depends on how well kids do on the FCAT, but the state keeps changing the benchmarks.
"They work so hard. They are the backbone of this school, and when those goalposts do change it is a little demoralizing to them because they work so hard and yet nobody will see the fruits of their labor," said Escandell.
At Orchard Villa, 99 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch, but most are native English speakers. At some schools, most of the kids are still learning English, which makes it even tougher to meet the state's standards.
Carvalho says as the state begins to change the accountability system again, to accommodate the incoming common core curriculum, one basic principle should be held above all others:
"Kids are not widgets and teachers are not widgets and we ought to be very careful about decisions we make before moving forward," Carvalho said.
The superintendent pledged to continue pressuring Tallahassee to re-evaluate the accountability system.