"Back in the 1990s, Florida had a reputation -- deserved or not -- for graduating too many kids who couldn't read or write. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who saw himself as an education innovator, hit on a grand plan to make schools accountable."
"He called it the A+ Plan for Education. It morphed into the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and took on newfound importance: Schools would be assigned a letter grade, A through F, based on exam scores."
"A decade later, the FCAT and school grades -- along with a host of other changes -- have placed Florida front and center in the educational reform movement."
"Since Florida began grading schools in 1999, the percentage of schools receiving A's and B's has more than tripled from 21 percent to 79 percent. The proportion of D and F schools dropped from 28 percent to 7 percent. The improvement came even as the state continually raised the standards on which the grades would be based, affording the schools little time or resources to adapt."
"Critics say improved school grades show only that students are getting better at the FCAT, not that they are necessarily learning more. But students have also improved their scores on other standardized tests they don't prepare for."
"One of them -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress, billed as ``the nation's report card'' -- showed 70 percent of Florida fourth-graders reading at grade level in 2007, compared with 53 percent in 1998."
"Those results lifted Florida's national ranking. In 1998, Florida placed 35th on the fourth-grade reading test. The state ranked 22nd in the same category in 2007, though the results have been less stellar in math and in eighth grade."