Principal Donita Moody knew Florida's system for grading schools was getting tougher this year, so she braced herself and hoped St. Petersburg's Westgate Elementary School wouldn't do any worse than the C grade it got last year.
Instead, Westgate's grade shot up from a C to an A — one of only two Pinellas schools with such an improvement, the other being Athenian Academy charter school in Dunedin.
"I was very surprised, I didn't expect that great of a jump," she said.
But most schools in Pinellas County didn't get to celebrate. The new tougher standards meant only eight schools improved their letter grades this year.
A total of 49 Pinellas schools kept the same letter grade as last year.
Plus, 41 dropped a letter grade — and a dozen of those would have plummeted even more if not for a state rule preventing more than a one-grade drop.
For example, three schools that got C grades last year — Belleair Elementary, Campbell Park Elementary and Tyrone Middle School — got D grades this year but would have scored an F without the rule preventing more than a one-grade drop, according to data provided by the school system.
John Hopkins Middle School got a B last year and a C this year, but would have dropped to an F this year without that rule.
Because of tougher FCAT-grading standards that took effect last year, teachers and administrators knew the schools would have to achieve more for the same grade and that some school grades would likely suffer.
"On the whole we knew that we would experience these kinds of changes,'' said Bill Lawrence, Pinellas associate superintendent for teaching and learning.
School Board member Terry Krassner said it was hard to assess what the new grades mean because FCAT has often changed so that it has "always been like comparing apples to oranges." She said she wished every student took the same test for their grade level every year to provide a more consistent assessment.
Lawrence said schools are working to focus "on the delivery of quality instruction to our students and not so much the changes to the formulas." He said teachers and administrators want to form a bond with students and parents that "transcends a single test or letter grade."
There were bright spots in the new grades — 32 A schools from last year got A grades again, in spite of the new standards. On the flip side, two F schools got F grades again.
The grade for the Imagine Charter School in St. Petersburg slid from D to F, less than two months after Pinellas schools superintendent John Stewart warned that continued academic problems could result in closing the school.
"Our school is much greater than that grade," principal Angela Prince said. She said her school uses several measures of performance, and she can see students are benefitting.
"This school has really struggled but I think in the midst of that we've made some major changes and great strides," she said. Asked if the grade was a setback, she said, "Absolutely not … it just feeds the energy to even do better."
Because of the F grade and the school's past academic performance, Lawrence said, it's likely the School Board will discuss the Imagine School soon.