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FCAT margin of error is small

TARPON SPRINGS — The difference between a good grade and a dismal grade isn't much, principal Kent Vermeer of Tarpon Springs High said.

Just two students and one point.

The latest FCAT scores, released Tuesday, say Tarpon Springs High has earned a D on the state report card.

But Vermeer said the school made 494 points, only one point shy of a B grade. While enough for the C grade, the school grade was still dropped one letter because only 48 percent of students in the bottom 25 percent made adequate progress.

That's about two students, or 2 percent, shy of the 50 percent threshold the state requires, Vermeer said.

"Sometimes I don't think the public understands how few students it takes to be the difference between a single grade," he said.

The D grade alone will be enough to send some parents running and screaming, Sue Geier said. Her daughter, Moriah, will be a freshman in the fall.

"It's so alarming," she said initially. "I really thought Tarpon was going to score better."

The FCAT, administered to students in grades 3 through 11 in February and March, tests students in mathematics, reading, science and writing.

Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris, a former teacher, said the FCAT reflects "no way near" the school's actual performance level.

"I think it's appalling that a whole school is held accountable because you might have two challenged students," she said.

Vermeer said half of the low-performing students missed about 15 days during the spring semester, when the test is administered.

"It's tough to have them show learning gains when they don't come to school," he said.

Roger Sellew, chairman of the school's advisory council, said the test is not indicative of the average student.

"It's reflective of getting the kids at the bottom 25 percent involved," he said.

The school boasts culinary arts and veterinary programs as well as a lot of students earning college credit, Vermeer said.

"It's an excellent school and they have excellent teachers," Billiris said. "It's one of the best schools in Pinellas County."

Vermeer said he plans to re-evaluate classrooms, teachers and curriculum to bring scores up, including using college professors to teach English teachers reading strategies.

But Sellew said that although evaluation is needed, changes shouldn't come at the expense of high-performing students.

"(FCAT scores) can be terribly misleading and very well drive the school to do things that aren't necessarily in the best interest of all the students," he said.

Vermeer said the school might appeal. The deadline to appeal is Aug. 8.

Billiris said the FCAT scores might shape the state's view of the classroom, but she has been there firsthand.

"I don't see these results," she said. "I see these kids."

Jackie Alexander can be reached at jdalexander@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

FCAT margin of error is small 07/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 8:52pm]

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