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Grades miscalculated for more than 200 schools statewide

More than 200 schools statewide received incorrect grades, a mistake that comes after months of state education officials' efforts to restore confidence in Florida's testing system.

School officials in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties confirmed that dozens of schools were shortchanged.

The news trickled out Friday, with some, like Hillsborough and Broward, learning each had 17 schools that were affected. Other districts, like Pinellas and Miami-Dade, were waiting for more details — and expecting higher grades.

Pinellas superintendent John Stewart, who was on vacation in Los Angeles, said he received a phone call from the state's public schools chancellor. He didn't have an exact number of affected schools, but estimated it to be about as many as in Hillsborough — and that the grades would be going up.

"She mentioned that a goodly number would be moving from a B to an A and from a C to a B," he said.

School grades were released for elementary and middle schools last week. High school grades are expected later this year.

Statewide, the department has identified 213 schools that will receive improved grades and those corrections will result in higher grades for nine districts, said state Board of Education vice chair Roberto Martinez, who was informed of the changes late Friday.

It was unclear Friday how the mistakes happened and state education officials did not put out any official release. Instead, the department was quietly calling superintendents.

The state already has been under intense criticism from parents and school leaders because of a series of rapid changes this year to the testing system. It started with plummeting writing scores, followed by an increase in the number of failing third-graders, an overall decline in FCAT scores and a statewide drop in school grades.

School districts have signed onto resolutions against excessive testing.

Even Gov. Rick Scott suggested earlier this month that the state was doing too much testing — and he acknowledged there have been more complaints than ever before, particularly about the FCAT.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has held public forums across the state in recent months to hear from parents and community members. Robinson has put the blame for too much testing on the school districts, though, not the state.

State officials tried to cushion the blow from falling test scores by agreeing that no school would drop more than a letter grade this year. Some other requirements of the grading system were waived.

Cynthia Sucher, director of communications for DOE, said that every year some school grades are adjusted. Typically, though, school districts appeal a handful of school grades.

"Some of the adjustments could affect the school grades and in turn, the school grades could affect district's grade," she said.

For example, the state had given Hillsborough a C. It's really a B.

Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia commended the state for correcting its mistakes.

"This is cause for celebration at those schools; they maintained or improved their grade even during a year of tougher standards," Elia said in a news release issued late Friday. "And it's gratifying that we as a district were able to maintain our B grade during this difficult year of transition to tougher standards."

Pinellas fell from a B to a C this year; it was unclear Friday if the district's grade would go up. Miami-Dade kept its B and Broward fell from an A to a B. In Palm Beach County, nearly a dozen schools were affected.

Broward superintendent Robert Runcie said Friday that 11 of the district's schools will go from a B to an A.

"I actually have run into a number of principals at these schools who said they worked really hard," Runcie said. "I think folks will be really happy to see they came out even better than they first thought."

Miami Herald staff writer Laura Isensee contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3356.

Grades miscalculated for more than 200 schools statewide 07/20/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 12:30am]

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