BROOKSVILLE — Amid the cloud of controversy engulfing this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, Hernando County has emerged as an A school district.
That's a grade better than last year, and a return to the A status the district achieved two years ago.
Nine of Hernando's 17 elementary, middle and K-8 schools maintained their grades — and all of those are As and Bs, according to results released by the state on Friday.
Two more schools moved up one grade: Explorer K-8 and Spring Hill Elementary, both to an A. None of the 17 schools scored lower than a C.
The state did not release high school grades because the new formula to calculate those grades includes components that are not yet known, such as the graduation rate. Those grades are expected in November.
The district grade is based on FCAT results including the high school scores, so the districtwide grade will not change when high schools receive their individual grades.
Hernando has four high schools. Central and Hernando high schools have struggled with Ds in the last few years, prompting increased state oversight. Principals at both schools have said they are encouraged by big strides in student performance this year.
"It's a really nice reflection districtwide on how we're progressing," superintendent Bryan Blavatt said of the overall A. "But I wouldn't want a false sense of accomplishment. As long as we have schools not performing at higher levels and above the state average, and not making (adequate yearly progress), we've got work to do."
Superintendents across the state have expressed concerns about an unusual drop in performance at the elementary school level. State Education Commissioner Eric Smith stood by the test results Friday, saying that the declines fall within historical ranges and that three separate audits should give confidence that "the process we're using is a process to be trusted."
Roughly one-third of the state's elementary schools fell at least one letter grade this year, primarily because of a drop in the percentage of low-performing students making learning gains.
Superintendents were right to raise concerns, but it's probably time to accept the results and look ahead, Blavatt said.
"The horse is dead," he said. "Let's find another one and ride on."
The lackluster results at the elementary level manifested in some disappointments in Hernando, where four elementary schools fell at least one letter grade.
Eastside Elementary, after bouncing back and forth between and As and Bs the last several years, fell from an A to a C this year.
Suncoast and Westside elementary schools also fell one notch to a B. Brooksville Elementary dropped to a B after holding an A for the last several years.
Brooksville Elementary principal Mary LeDoux feared that her school's grade would slip even further considering the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above grade level in reading dropped 15 points from last year.
LeDoux was among principals who felt sure that something was amiss with the scoring this year and said she still has some nagging doubts, but she is encouraging her teachers and staff to soldier on.
"We're not in data denial," LeDoux said. "Basically what we're looking at is Tony Dungy's famous quote: No excuses, no explanations. We have a game plan and we know where we're headed."
And, she added: "I'm happy for the district."
Overall, 69 percent of Hernando's students are performing at or above grade level in reading; 74 percent in math; 86 percent in writing; and 49 percent in science.
In the district's lowest performing quartile of students, 55 percent made gains in reading, down four points from last year; in math, that percentage ticked up a point to 65.
"I'm confident this should be a nice platform in the beginning," Blavatt said. "As a new superintendent, I love the fact that I now have a base level to move up from."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]