Sunday, June 24, 2018
Education

Pinellas high schools improve their letter grades

Times Staff Writer

Largo High School observed a moment of silence on Friday for the Connecticut school shooting victims. But after the somber reflection, principal Brad Finkbiner decided to deliver a different kind of message:

Speaking over the intercom, he let everyone know that Largo High had just been rated an A school for the first time.

"You could hear cheering down the hallways," Finkbiner said.

This Friday was a day for remembrance, a day to discover the world really didn't end, and the last day before winter break. But for many schools in Pinellas County and in Florida, it also was a time to celebrate.

New figures show that nine of Pinellas County's 16 high schools were rated A for the 2011-12 academic year, compared to just two the year before. Seven Pinellas high schools improved their letter grades and seven remained the same. The grades are preliminary since schools have the option to appeal.

Moving against the trend, Gibbs and Northeast high schools each dropped from a B to a C. The county had no D or F schools in either year.

At the same time, the number of Florida high schools earning A grades from the state rose by nearly a third in 2010-11, from 148 to 231, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart was quick to say it's not an exact comparison. That's because standards for grading schools have changed over the years and will continue to change in the future.

This year's changes were a mixed bag — there were some measures designed to prevent a big drop in scores, such as a decree that no school could lose more than one letter grade.

But in other respects, standards actually got tougher this year — the state increased passing scores for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and changed the graduation rate formula, among other measures.

Most agreed it will be tougher next year for high schools to get good grades, because scores from end-of-course biology and geometry exams will be factored in. And more changes loom after that. Asked when the standards would stop changing to allow for reliable year-to-year comparisons, Stewart said it would be years from now.

In spite of all the changes, Pinellas officials were elated.

"I'm extremely pleased," said Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego. He pointed out that the state's grading system, which used to rely exclusively on the FCAT, now includes factors such as graduation rates, industry certifications and readiness for college.

The state's reliance on the extra data is what has pushed back the release of high school grades into the winter, while elementary and middle schools receive their state grades in the summer.

"It really does paint a picture of how students are doing," Grego said of the new high school grading system.

Since the state began assigning school grades in 1999, Boca Ciega High has always been rated C or D. Last year it was a C.

But Thursday night, Boca Ciega principal Michael Vigue was at a school basketball game when Grego called with the good news: This time, Bogie had jumped all the way to A.

"We were pretty excited. . . . It's wonderful for our entire school community," Vigue said

Pinellas Park High School got C and D grades since 1999 — until the 2010-11 academic year, when it got its first B.

When principal John Johnston learned this week the school was getting its first A, he did not waste the opportunity to celebrate. He and four assistant principals fanned out and went to every single classroom in the school, to share the news in person.

They didn't stop there. The team congratulated the guidance counselors. And the plant operators. And the food staff workers.

Said Johnston: "It's a whole-school effort."

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

TAMPA — As chief of diversity for the Hillsborough County School District, Minerva Spanner-Morrow tries to keep her expectations realistic."We want the best of the best and I know that’s very difficult," she told principals last week as they prepared...
Published: 06/23/18
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

DADE CITY —Just a few weeks into summer vacation, Pasco Middle School student Jade Neal, 14, was back at school, delving into a challenging STEM activity on force in motion, as the theme to Mission Impossible played in the background.The assignment? ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18