Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Mark Warren

Second Advisor

Frank Porell

Third Advisor

Kristin Murphy


In 1999, Florida began grading schools on an A to F scale. These grades constituted part of the A+ package of policies advanced by Governor Bush’s administration. Schools then earned grades based on student standardized test scores. These changes followed a decade of increasing dismay over the trajectory of American education and preceded national moves towards test-based accountability for students and schools. While many researchers have investigated the effects of high-stakes testing on students, few have looked at the impacts of school-level accountability on non-test outcomes. This study considers the impacts of receiving a failing-grade on variables other than test scores for students and teachers.

This study utilizes qualitative and quantitative methods, including in-depth interviews with 12 teachers, two parents and a non-profit representative involved in Florida’s scholarship programs. Additionally, using 2010-2015 data from the Florida Department of Education, it employs fixed-effects regression models to investigate the association between receiving a failing school grade and expected changes in attendance, graduation, drop-out and teacher-separation rates.

The regression results do not suggest strong relationships between failing grades and attendance, graduation, or drop-out rates; they show modest evidence that teachers are more likely to leave a school after it fails. Descriptive statistics illustrate alarming gaps between failing and non-failing schools. Interviews explain some of the reasons for this and illuminate the views of teachers on the practice of grading schools. Most teachers support accountability, but think school grades are simultaneously simplistic and confusing, reducing complex school environments to a single grade. According to teachers, school grades ignore student growth as well as unique challenges and strengths of schools, including socioeconomic and racial divisions. A failing-grade seems to make attracting highly-qualified teachers difficult, while shaming those who work with struggling students.

States like Florida have options for reform. This study suggests that states should incorporate within-year student growth into their evaluation metrics and integrate teachers into the evaluation and reform processes. Some school districts in other states have adopted school quality frameworks (SQFs). SQFs provide a model for how Florida might make grades more holistic and diverse, while better informing parents of school quality.