Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Schools Cringe as Grades Fall

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Schools Cringe as Grades Fall

Article excerpt

NEW STANDARDS: Fewer Florida schools get an A, with Sarasota an exception

Hundreds of Florida elementary and middle schools will lose bonus money and bragging rights that come with an A grade as a new, tougher grading formula resulted in a devastating decline in school grades across the state.

As education officials feared, the tougher grading of the FCAT led hundreds of Florida elementary and middle schools to receive lower marks this year.

Only 1,124 schools earned A grades, 368 fewer than in 2011, according to results released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education.

And 284 Florida schools are now regarded as failing, up from 149 in 2011, a 90 percent increase.

Despite the tougher standards, more Sarasota County schools this year emerged with an A grade although some, like Tuttle and Gocio elementary schools, dropped to a B after several years of straight As.

But Wednesday's results were another blow for the Manatee County School District, which has made improving school grades a priority. Eleven schools there received a D grade, compared to only two last year.

Elementary and middle schools are graded based on how their students score on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, and the grades are far more than symbolic.

In era of school choice, parents often select their child's school based on its grade. Schools that earn an A grade or improve by a letter grade also earn bonus money of about $50,000 each.

But far fewer schools will see that money this year after state officials raised the bar for students in preparation for the 2014- 15 school year when the state moves to a more rigorous curriculum called Common Core State Standards.

"There is often a dip; we knew that would be the case," said Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. "It's been tough, but Florida will find itself in a better spot than others in the nation because of the decisions we've made."

School leaders across the state also know that the grades could have been even worse.

Almost 400 schools benefited from a temporary rule that prevents grades from sliding by more than one letter. That measure applies only for this year to make the transition less painful for schools. That means a school with scores that would normally have caused a fall from an A to a C were instead awarded a B.

One of the main reasons for the slip in grades was a decision in December by the State Board of Education to raise the benchmarks to pass the FCAT. Tens of thousands more students failed the test as a result.

Also, the formula used to grade schools was changed to include the performance of their most challenging students, including special education students and those still in their first year of learning English, whose scores were previously omitted.

State education officials sent out a letter to parents last week warning that school grades would be worse this year. …

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