The number of Florida high schools earning A's from the state more than doubled this year, but Pinellas County's lowest-performing high schools failed to gain traction according to data released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.
Five schools that consistently have struggled on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Lakewood and Northeast — again received D's. Another school — Tarpon Springs High — joined them.
The news came as a blow for schools where ninth- and 10th-grade reading scores improved. Several principals expected to see the success reflected in their overall grade, said Harry Brown, deputy superintendent for curriculum.
The culprit this year, Brown said, was low science scores.
"I think many of those D high schools could have been C's," Brown said, "but they would have had to have percentiles in the high 80s or 90s in other areas to make up for the low science scores."
The news was brighter at the elementary level, where 10 schools improved their letter grade. Three schools — Clearview Avenue, Eisenhower and South Ward — improved by two letter grades.
Among elementary schools showing gains were two Title 1 schools, where a high percentage of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Fuguitt and Tarpon Springs elementary schools both made "adequate yearly progress" for the second year in a row under federal No Child Left Behind standards, releasing them from "school in need of improvement" status.
Other high-poverty schools weren't as successful. Of the district's 54 Title 1 schools, 47 failed to make progress, according to the federal standard, up from 38 last year. It was a trend mirrored statewide, where 76 percent of Title 1 schools failed to make progress compared with 66 percent last year.
On the state standard, 2,125 of 2,889 schools that are graded earned A's or B's, up from 1,942 last year. Meanwhile, the number of D and F schools dropped from 299 to 199.
Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith attributed the gains to a long-term commitment to accountability and focused attention on teaching and learning.
The letter grades, handed out for the 10th straight year, are based on FCAT scores in reading, math, writing and science. The formula considers how many students reach a basic level of proficiency in each subject and how many improve from the year before, putting a premium on gains made by children who struggle the most.
Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Donna Winchester can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8413.