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Merging state and federal ratings lumps disparate Pasco schools together

LAND O'LAKES — When it comes to school performance, Lake Myrtle Elementary sits in an elite crowd.

It's one of just 33 schools in Florida to earn an A each year since the state started grading schools 11 years ago.

Yet when the state released its latest school ratings, Lake Myrtle found itself in the same category as C-rated Hudson Elementary — a school in its second year of restructuring under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines.

Also in that category: Pasco Elementary and Pine View Middle, which earned A's and made adequate yearly progress under the federal standards this year.

How do these schools end up lumped together?

It's all part of the state's new accountability formula designed to marry two independent school evaluation systems and make them less confusing.

In past years, many parents questioned how schools could receive top grades from the state and then low marks from the feds.

The mix of schools on the list have some people wondering if the new system is any better.

"I think it speaks to the problem of all these accountability and grading systems," said Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco. "Unfortunately, they don't seem to have consistent results and there doesn't seem to be any way to integrate the two."

Lake Myrtle landed on the list because it didn't see enough academic progress this year with its students with disabilities. Pasco Elementary and Pine View Middle wound up there because they didn't make adequate yearly progress last year.

Hudson Elementary sat on the list a year ago and, while it made some progress, didn't get far enough to move off.

Now each of them faces the same level of district intervention to improve their performance, despite widely varying results on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Each will have to spend the time and money creating ways to reach the groups of students who fell short of the FCAT mark.

In Pasco County, 71 schools came under some level of supervision under the new system. Fifteen were placed in "Correct II," the second-worst category, which requires whole-school change directed by the school district.

State education officials said the new method forces all schools to pay attention to all students, something they might not have done under the old ways, which did not penalize schools unless they received federal funding for low-income programs.

"Many schools throughout Florida and really throughout the country that are non-Title I schools have not really looked closely at their subgroup performance," said Nikolai Vitti, deputy chancellor for school improvement and student achievement.

The state is trying to change that "to target the needs of the subgroups."

In a news release, Gov. Charlie Crist applauded the effort.

"The expansion of the differentiated accountability program ensures that all children have access to the best education possible," Crist said.

"After a successful first year we are already seeing tremendous results and I'm excited that every school can now benefit from this increased level of assistance."

Last year, the state placed 13 schools (none in Pasco) in the most severe level of sanctions, called "Intervene."

Of those, 10 showed strong gains and moved toward exiting that level.

They did so with major efforts to change their curriculum, teaching methods and other aspects of the school, all under the watchful eye of the state.

Lake Myrtle principal Kara McComeskey said she had begun reviewing student performance information even before learning her school appeared on the accountability list, so she could make adjustments to the school's improvement plan.

The school houses programs for students with autism and behavior issues, and those groups did not make adequate gains in their FCAT results this year.

"I won't ever allow anybody to use that as an excuse," McComeskey said. "But it is a challenge for our school. … We have to continue to work through these interventions to determine what works for each kid."

She noted that the school continues to look at data and pair it with programs to see what is successful and what isn't.

As a result, it has made changes to the writing curriculum already and is working on revisions in reading and math.

That was before the state ever included the school on any list.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Merging state and federal ratings lumps disparate Pasco schools together 06/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2009 9:21pm]

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