The state Department of Education agrees to give three high schools passing grades under its new evaluation system.
Three Pasco County high schools that received grades of "incomplete" through the state's new school rating system have now been dubbed C schools after a review of student test files.
Gulf, Ridgewood and Land O'Lakes high schools received the incomplete grades in June because less than 80 percent of their 10th-graders took the tests on which the grades are based. In a letter to the state last month, school superintendent John Long argued that the state instituted the 80 percent cutoff after the tests were given. Schools should not be penalized for rules that didn't exist at test time, he said.
The state has agreed with Long and will grade the schools as if enough students had taken the test. That means each of the three schools will get C grades. The grades, based primarily on the test scores on the state's FCAT reading and math tests, range from A to F just like those students receive on report cards.
The state Department of Education informed the district of its decision in a letter last week. David Mosrie, the department administrator in charge of public schools and community education, warned that the 80 percent rule will be in effect for the coming school year and may soon increase to 90 percent.
The state still expects the schools to investigate why so many students were absent on test day. Each test in reading and math is split into two sections. At Gulf High, the problem appeared to be that many students didn't participate in at least one of the testing sections. The letter, however, doesn't say whether those students were legitimately absent from school or if they simply skipped the test.
Land O'Lakes High said its problems arose from that fact that less than one third of the students who were absent on test day attended the scheduled make-up exam.
Principal Max Ramos added that many of the students who missed the test were students who had failed 10th grade and had taken the FCAT previously. Those students apparently didn't see the need to take the exam again, he said. He did add that the faculty wasn't "aggressive enough" in making sure those students took the make-up test.
"If we had known (about the 80 percent cutoff) we would have been out there hunting for those kids," he said.
Land O'Lakes missed the 80 percent cutoff by about six students.
At Ridgewood, the problem wasn't excessive absences. Tests taken by 61 students were not valid because a teacher failed to properly enforce the exam's time limit. Those students were classified as having not taken the test.
Ridgewood's assistant principal Bill Hulton said teachers were given plenty of explanation about how to oversee the exams, but one teacher simply made a mistake. He said the school will ensure it doesn't happen again this coming school year.
And he said other students probably skipped the test because it didn't count toward graduation or their grades.
"It's an issue that we need to address," Hulton said. "To these kids there was no consequence. We need to make sure that all our students know this test is important."
The principal at Gulf High could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.
_ Times staff writer Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is kfischersptimes.com.
Gulf, Ridgewood and Land O'Lakes high schools recently had their state grades changed from incompletes to C's.
Land O'Lakes C
River Ridge C
_ Source: Department of Education