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Hillsborough joins statewide improvements in school grades

TAMPA — Despite generally tougher tests put in place this year, Florida school grades remained relatively stable statewide for middle and elementary schools, according to results released Thursday.

More than three-quarters of schools received an A or B, with the number of A-rated elementary schools growing by 82 and the number of F schools dropping from 44 to 31.

In Hillsborough, all three of the district's traditional elementary schools with F grades last year — Miles, Just and B.T. Washington — improved their ranking, earning a D and two C's respectively.

Two other schools jumped to A status: Shaw Elementary, which earned a C last year, and Advantage Middle charter school, which started the year as a D school.

"I knew we worked hard, but getting an A was definitely a surprise and a happy accomplishment to know that all of our work paid off," said Shaw principal Holly Saia.

Two other schools tumbled in the opposite direction. Riverhills Elementary slipped from C to F, while Mount Pleasant Middle charter school dropped from A to F.

Another school, James Elementary in Tampa, got no grade at all — just an I for "incomplete."

It was one of 14 schools statewide caught up in a Department of Education investigation into potential cheating. Officials said a state-funded review by Caveon Test Security found an unusually high number of erasures on test sheets from those schools.

Speaking at a news conference, interim Education Commissioner John L. Winn said some appeared to be individual student erasures, while a second category appeared to be pervasive erasures, "indicating potential involvement of adults in the process."

Hillsborough spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the district submitted the results of its own James investigation to the state on Wednesday. She said teachers at the school told students to mark FCAT questions they were unsure about, and go back and review if they had time.

"It was a strategy," Cobbe said. "On certain questions the kids weren't sure of, they went back and changed their answers."

Hillsborough officials said they would take no further action until the state finished its inquiry. And with Thursday's release of school grades, they were emphasizing the positive.

Three-quarters of the district's elementary schools earned an A or B grade this year, and more than half of middle schools earned an A, said spokesman Stephen Hegarty in a statement. Seven Hillsborough schools were among the top 50 statewide in points that determine school grades.

This year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test was the first since the state raised its academic standards. That meant longer reading passages and tougher math problems.

"Our teachers, principals and school district leaders deserve tremendous credit this year for answering the call of higher standards with resounding success," said Winn, the interim commissioner, in a statement.

Among Florida's largest districts, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Polk appeared to have much smaller declines in grades than others in the group, which includes Hillsborough and Pinellas, Winn said in a conference call with reporters.

He said the department intends to further analyze the details and release reports on how those districts were able to succeed.

The state also released the number of points high schools received from FCAT scores, which make up 50 percent of the grades they'll receive this fall.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

To see school grades for the state: http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org/default.asp.

Hillsborough joins statewide improvements in school grades 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 11:59pm]
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