Sunday, February 18, 2018
Education

Early look at school grades shows up and downs as Florida pivots to a new system

Tampa Bay area schools saw a variety of results in their state grades delivered to districts late Thursday, with many showing improvement and several dropping a level.

The results, which the Tampa Bay Times obtained a day before their public release, show Hillsborough County elementary and middle schools logged in 98 A grades, compared with 61 a year ago. At the same time, the district had seven F-rated schools, up from five.

Hernando County's sole F-graded school from 2013 improved to a C, while its three A-rated schools held firm.

Pasco County saw five schools drop to F grades, from none the previous year. Two schools rose from B to A, but 10 dropped from A to B.

Five Pinellas schools that overhauled their staffs and were targeted for special help got no traction in their first year as "turnaround" schools: Melrose, Fairmount Park and Maximo elementaries kept their F grades, as did Azalea Middle School; Pinellas Park Middle remained a D school.

Some district officials worried that their school grades would not look good because they had begun making the transition from Florida's old academic standards to the new Common Core-based standards this year, while their students were evaluated with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The FCAT measures the standards that are being jettisoned.

The current grading system also is being revised, after facing heavy criticism for being unfair with constantly changing measures.

Some administrators said they expected to see marks that would not reflect the true nature of their students' performance.

Superintendents across Florida have called for a three-year transition period to the new accountability system, with no penalties assessed during that period. The Legislature approved a one-year pause, starting in the fall.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart has said that this year, the schools should have been teaching the old standards on the FCAT, and the grades should reflect that.

District officials will be considering next steps as they assess the grades in the coming days.

Among the more notable results:

• Hernando County's Eastside Elementary, its only F school last year, improved to a C.

• A longtime Pinellas magnet school accustomed to higher grades — John Hopkins Middle — got its first F. And a preK-8 school that is attracting more families, James B. Sanderlin, received its first A.

• Pasco's Lacoochee Elementary, which restaffed its faculty as part of a turnaround effort, raised its grade from D to C. Its other turnaround school, Hudson Elementary, remained at a D. Five schools, including Gulf Highlands, which had improved from an F in 2011, received F grades.

• Four of Hillsborough's five F-rated schools from last year raised their grades, including one — Woodmont Charter — to a C. Four D-rated schools improved to B, and three made A's. But Riverhills Elementary Magnet, created to turn around a persistently struggling school, earned an F despite its efforts.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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