Schools Anxiously Anticipate Grades; Marks Based on FCAT Outcomes Are to Be Announced by Gov. Bush on Tuesday

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH KORMANIK, The Times-Union

When Gov. Jeb Bush announces public school grades Tuesday in Tallahassee, Northeast Florida districts will be listening for the state's indication of their overall quality, giving families and communities something to be proud of or slapping them with public embarrassment.

The grades matter, from top-performing schools hoping to cash in on bonuses for earning A grades to schools with one F blemish in the past three years looking to avoid vouchers. The marks are based on the results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which students in grades three to 10 took in March.

In Duval County, 17 schools have received at least one F the past three years. Students at schools that receive two F grades in four years are eligible for vouchers to transfer to private schools or better-performing public schools.

Ribault High School is the only regional school whose students may transfer under the rule, but other schools on the watch list could join it depending on their grades.

Schools already know most of the raw data that goes into the grades, but the score comprises more data and uses a formula that schools can estimate, though not with 100 percent accuracy. The grades are calculated from six areas, three in student achievement and three in improvement from last year.

Ribault High hopes to begin the climb from the bottom this year. After two consecutive failing grades from the state, the school must post four years of non-failing grades to stop offering vouchers to its students.

The school made gains or stayed the same in reading, writing and math, but it's unclear whether the improvements will be enough to raise the school's grade. Principal Lawrence Dennis was out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment.

Superintendent John Fryer has another worry. He was traveling last week but said in a recent interview that middle schools were his greatest concern. In particular, he named Ribault, Matthew Gilbert and Paxon middle schools.

The middle grades suffered statewide. Middle school reading scores dropped 4 points across Florida, said Tim Ballentine, Duval County's general director of research, assessment and evaluation.

"Our middle schools appear to have followed that trend," he said. "It's not surprising. Middle school is a different place. I don't know what to blame that on unless that particular version of the test was more difficult than previous versions."

Several middle schools are teetering on the edge of one grade or another, so Ballentine declined to predict what schools might score. Still, "there are a number of middle schools that we have concerns about how well they're doing."

The other regional schools that could be eligible for vouchers hail from St. …