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The school district wins an appeal of the state's FCAT data, and the high school is bumped up a grade.

Shortly after Northeast High School was hit with a "D" for the third straight year over the summer, principal Kevin Hendrick pored over the data state education officials considered in awarding the school its letter grade.

He found errors.

The district appealed and in a rare move the Department of Education bumped Northeast's grade up to a C.

"It kind of validates all the hard work that our students and teachers put into the school," Hendrick said. "It just makes everybody happier, so to speak."

This year the DOE received 18 appeals from across the state and granted only eight, including the one for Northeast High. Pinellas lost an appeal on behalf of San Jose Elementary School, and two Hillsborough elementary schools also lost appeals.

Successful appeals are unusual because a school district has to prove that the state miscalculated a school's score, said DOE spokeswoman Cheryl Etters,

"They can't appeal if they got a B and they said it was a rainy day at the school and the kids shouldn't have been tested that day," said Etters, using a lighthearted example.

Grades are mostly based on students' scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Points are awarded for students scoring at least a 3 on the standardized test, as well as for schools with improvement compared to the year before.

Before the change, Northeast was just three points shy of a C grade. District officials appealed based on the school's percentage of juniors and seniors who met graduation requirements after retaking the FCAT.

Eight students also were found with high enough ACT scores to meet graduation standards, but their scores were not reported to state officials early enough.

In all, Northeast received 10 more points.

Hendrick, who has been principal at Northeast a year and a half, said a C grade for a high school isn't necessarily a "scarlet letter."

"We have a long way to go, but when you take everything into account, it's a good improvement," he said.

Hendrick noted that high schools across the state struggled under the state's grading criteria.

This year, the number of A high schools statewide dropped to 68 -down nearly 50 percent - while the number of D high schools climbed from 70 to 116, according to results released by the Florida Department of Education.

The tally for Pinellas' public high schools: one A, two B's, five with C's, eight received a D and one received an F.

Hendrick cautioned that the grade doesn't tell the whole story and that students can have a successful experience at any school.

"Our general philosophy is just not make it more than it needs to be," Hendrick said.

Pinellas School Board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea also thinks the grades are an imperfect measure of a school's quality, but the school district wanted Northeast's grade to be fair.

"It's good that they (changed it), and it shows the school is working hard to improve," she said. "You like to see them getting some recognition for it."