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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Despite C grade, some schools linger on state watch list



TAMPA -- They did all the right things: brought in coaches and consultants, worked long hours, improved student test scores, and raised their state grades above D or F status. And yet still they languish on the bottom rung of Florida's watch list.

And it hurts.

For Franklin Middle School in Tampa and two other schools across the state -- Holmes Elementary in Miami-Dade County and Warrington Middle in Escambia County -- it seems average grades just aren't good enough to exit the "Intervene" list under Florida's Differentiated Accountability plan.  All three earned C grades in both 2009 and 2010, but couldn't show adequate improvements among their lowest-performing or at-risk students, and found themselves back on the list released Thursday.

The system was launched two years ago to allow struggling schools a chance to show improvement under the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act. But Hillsborough officials say the system still has bugs; it's far easier to get on the "Intervene" list than it is to get off.

Commissioner of Education Eric J. Smith told the St. Petersburg Times that the state could not tolerate "failing schools."

That label might arguably fit for Gibbs High in St. Petersburg, which joined the list after earning an F grade in 2009.  But it rankles at Tampa's Middleton High, which has never earned an F and has steadily improved its scores, to the point that Smith said it might yet earn a C this fall.

In Franklin's case, the school improved its scores in both reading and math, but lost ground in the percentage of students in the lowest quartile who made gains in those subjects.

The irony, said Jeff Eakins, general director of federal programs for the district, is that Franklin has better test data than other C-rated schools across the state.

And of course, there are plenty of schools that earned Ds or Fs this year but aren't on the "Intervene" list.

Eakins said Franklin Middle has made strong progress under principal Karen French, focusing intensively on test data and designing interventions for struggling students.

"She’s just outstanding, a really strong academic and instructional leader," he said. "They’ve just done a remarkable job of making sure students' needs are met." 

District officials say superintendent MaryEllen Elia plans to ask the state whether it's time to adjust the system, so that truly failing schools aren't lumped together with schools that have turned themselves around.

"That is going to be one of the subjects," spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. "We have a school that is now a C but still on the "Intervene" list, and it’s very confusing."

-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Friday, August 20, 2010 5:46pm]


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