Thursday, January 18, 2018
Education

High school grades bring mostly good news to Pasco

LAND O'LAKES — Principal Ric Mellin made sure to thank his staff on Friday, and to have them congratulate their students as they wrapped up the first semester and headed into winter vacation.

Land O'Lakes High School had regained an A grade from the state, a year after being penalized for failing to make enough gains among its lowest performing students. It was the only Pasco County high school to exceed 70 percent of students at or above grade level in reading on the FCAT.

"It's a team effort. Everyone contributes to the success," Mellin said after Friday's release of the 2011-12 high school grades. "It's a good way to go into the break."

The news was mostly good for all of the county's high schools.

Zephyrhills High joined Land O'Lakes in improving its grade, to a B from a C. Mitchell and Wiregrass Ranch high schools maintained their A's. And five other schools kept their marks steady from the year before, although Fivay earned its second straight D. Four schools saw their grades drop from A to B.

Many superintendents and principals had predicted that school grades would drop in 2011-12 because of several changes to the formula. Those included a tougher graduation rate calculation from the federal government and higher passing scores set by the State Board of Education for the FCAT exams.

To ease the blow, the state put in place several buffers. Those included reducing the passing score on the writing portion of the FCAT, suspending the penalty for poor gains among low performers, and preventing any school from dropping more than one letter grade. The state also did not include science test results this year, because the scores for the biology end-of-course exam had not been set in time and the FCAT science exam was not given.

As a result, the state overall saw its number of A schools rise by nearly a third. Interim education commissioner Pam Stewart acknowledged that the changes, most of which will be altered or eliminated for 2012-13, made a difference in the outcome.

"I think it will be more difficult to earn the sorts of grades we earned this year," she said during a conference call with reporters. She stressed, however, that the accountability trends are showing improvement regardless.

Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning said the shifting criteria make it difficult to know whether the schools are truly improving.

"We have voiced that concern to Tallahassee," Browning said. "With the constantly moving target, how do you know where you are? It's apples to onions."

Still, he said, the grades released Friday did not worry him, and they gave a place from which the district can grow.

Andy Frelick, who became Zephyrhills High principal a few weeks ago, said he was still assessing the school's data to determine how it moved up its grade, and where it would continue to seek improvements.

"The teachers are really working overtime to do their best," Frelick said. "We're happy with where we are, and we're going to keep working hard."

Gulf High School principal Kim Davis said she was dissatisfied that her school got a B, particularly since it earned enough points for an A — as did River Ridge, Sunlake and Pasco high schools. Their B grades were a result of low graduation rates among at-risk students.

In addition to improving graduation numbers for at-risk students, Davis said, Gulf needs to improve its academic gains among the school's top students.

"We've got to look at both ends of the spectrum," she said. "We need to see what we can do to make the letter change. . . . I know that we can do it."

Davis did not worry that the grading criteria will change again for 2012-13, including such things as geometry and biology end of course exams, increasing the passing score for FCAT writing and bringing back the penalty for inadequate gains among the lowest performing students.

"If I got concerned every year with the changes the state made, I'd never sleep," she said. "I focus on student achievement and what's good for kids."

Florida began using factors beyond FCAT scores to grade high schools in 2009-10. Lawmakers responded to arguments that the schools' performance could be more accurately evaluated if based on a variety of outcomes, and not a single measure.

Added to the mix were participation and performance on advanced placement and other accelerated exams, the school's four- and five-year graduation rates, its at-risk student graduation rate and college readiness rates on one of several college entrance exams.

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

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or @jeffsolochek on Twitter. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Comments
Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

"On Nov. 3, 2017, the Tallahassee Police Department responded to 1012 Buena Vista Drive … in reference to a death investigation."So begins a charging document in the case of Andrew Coffey, the 20-year-old Florida State University student who was foun...
Updated: 2 hours ago
In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In the state capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers breezed through the bullet points of a higher education bill. They skimmed past a hot-button proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System into a single university without a peep of pushba...
Published: 01/18/18

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Published: 01/18/18
For FSU fraternity, a wild night turned tragic

For FSU fraternity, a wild night turned tragic

The night of initiation was the most that the brothers of Florida State University’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter said they had ever seen their pledge class drink.That was the plan, court records said: Pledges would arrive at the fraternity house Nov. 2 and ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

TALLAHASSEE — The death of a fraternity pledge from alcohol poisoning has led to hazing charges against nine Florida State University students.State attorney Jack Campbell filed charges on Wednesday in Leon County Court.All nine will be charged with ...
Published: 01/17/18
From the archive: USF St. Petersburg’s long journey to autonomy

From the archive: USF St. Petersburg’s long journey to autonomy

As the Florida Legislature considers undoing the current governance of the University of South Florida by folding the three branches of its system into one entity, here is a look at some Times coverage of the long-running struggle for independence at...
Published: 01/17/18
How a small campus grew into an independent USF St. Petersburg

How a small campus grew into an independent USF St. Petersburg

Just a satellite campus many decades ago, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has managed to carve out considerable autonomy within the arms of the USF System. But a bill moving through the state House of Representatives could undo its sep...
Published: 01/17/18
A closer look at graduation rates. How did your school do?

A closer look at graduation rates. How did your school do?

Published: 01/17/18
Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

NEW PORT RICHEY — At age 28, things were really shaping up for Joel Santos-Gonzalez. Fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, he had just completed his third year at Gulf Middle School."I always liked to talk to people on an intellectual...
Published: 01/17/18
School board member is ‘dumbfounded’ by Times report on Hillsborough substitute teachers

School board member is ‘dumbfounded’ by Times report on Hillsborough substitute teachers

TAMPA — Members of the Hillsborough County School Board reacted with outrage, mild concern or, in some cases, not at all to a Tampa Bay Times report on misconduct by contracted substitute teachers.Responding to the Times article published Sunday, mem...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18