LAND O'LAKES — The school grade news coming out of Tallahassee on Thursday was not good for most Pasco County high schools.
Six of the 11 schools were docked a grade because they didn't make enough progress in reading with their lowest performing students. Seven of them saw their grades drop from a year ago. Four schools received D's — the most ever in Pasco's history with state grades.
"We were a little disappointed," said Jim Davis, assistant superintendent for high schools.
He noted that 25 percent of high schools across the state struggled with reading gains among their lowest students. He also mentioned that Pasco mirrored the state's decline in high school grades, too.
Statewide, 68 high schools earned A's this year, compared to 120 a year ago. Grades are based on FCAT results.
"We're going to get to work on that lowest quartile," Davis said, referring to the students in the lowest-scoring group.
He noted the success stories at a couple of schools: Sunlake and Wiregrass Ranch high schools both earned B grades while also improving their percentage of low-level students scoring better in reading.
Wiregrass Ranch High principal Ray Bonti said his school made a concerted effort to accomplish that task. That endeavor included a multi-week focus on reading skills, testing students regularly and giving them and their teachers detailed reports of their performance.
"We had a specific plan related to improving reading," Bonti said.
Gulf High principal Steve Knobl said he'll battle his school's slide to a D by focusing three new achievement and literacy coaches on the most struggling students.
The school has several programs in place, such as a learning lab and after school tutoring, to help those teens, he said.
"We still have to make decisions that sometimes are tough decisions, such as, where do you put your best teachers?" he said.
Knobl also intends to spend more time spreading writing instruction across the curriculum instead of focusing it in the 10th grade, where students take the test. He also wants to increase student buy-in, so they care about doing well.
"Motivation is a huge piece of this," Knobl said.
Sunlake High principal Angie Stone agreed. "Next year we're working on motivation," she said. "It's going to look like motivation to attend school on a more regular basis, ... motivation to be in class on time, to improve our use of time once we have our kids in the classroom. We're shooting for that A again next year."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.