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School finds basis to appeal for "A' rank in FCAT grading

After 2{ weeks of research, principal Sue Stoops believes she has found the three students who will get Brooksville Elementary School its A.

Each of the students scored in the school's bottom quarter on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but their results were not considered when the state handed out its accountability grades because their 2002 FCAT marks could not be found, Stoops said.

She found the 2002 numbers _ one in Pasco County, one in Clay County and one right in her school. And using the state's grading formula, she determined that the gap in learning gains between the school's top performers and lowest performers was 9 percentage points instead of 12.

To earn an A, the difference between those two groups had to be 10 or less.

"I think we've covered our bases here," Stoops said Tuesday, after delivering a copy of her appeal to state Rep. David Russell. "I hope this stands up."

Russell, a Republican who voted to implement the state education accountability plan, said Brooksville Elementary's situation proves there is a flaw in the system. While pleased that the administration had uncovered scoring discrepancies that might help bump its B to an A, Russell suggested the problem was bigger than a couple of students' FCAT results.

"We need to look beyond that," the House transportation chairman said. "We've got the bigger picture of how percentages are figured into the grading performance. While it's important that no child or no group is left behind, when you have improvement in every group, as they have, I think it's important to reward them."

He noted that Brooksville Elementary was Hernando County's poorest performing school less than a decade ago but has become one of the top county schools since. It makes no sense, he said, that a school would earn a B while three-quarters of the overall student body and two-thirds of the lowest quarter make gains, and its scores exceed others that received an A.

"That school epitomizes what A-Plus (accountability plan) is all about," Russell said of Brooksville Elementary. "It's not a perfect plan. I believe it's a good basis for reforms in the education system. But from time to time, it will need adjustments."

He planned to meet with Department of Education officials next week to discuss the issue. If necessary, he said, legislation will follow.

In past interviews, Department of Education spokeswoman Frances Marine has said there were no plans to change the grading formula. She said the state wants to ensure that schools serve all students and not just those who have fewer hurdles to overcome.

Stoops agreed that schools should be accountable for teaching the lowest performing students and that it was important to consider learning gains.

At the same time, she said, when well above 50 percent of all groups of students showed gains, perhaps it would be more fair to eliminate the percentage point difference requirement.

"I wish they would set a cut-off number," Stoops said.

She noted that 27 other schools in Florida had missed A grades only because their reading improvement gaps were 11 to 13 percentage points, rather than 10 or less. She had been working with the principal of one of those schools, located in Gainesville, as they each prepared appeals of their grades.

The department will accept school grade appeals through July 18. It did not have figures on how many appeals had been filed.

Last year, the department received appeals from 152 schools in 34 school districts. Among them, 27 schools moved up to an A status; 10 schools became B schools; 13 became C schools; and nine became D schools, of which four had previously been graded an F.

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education and politics in Hernando County. He can be reached at (352) 754-6115 or solocheksptimes.com.

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