Local News

Grades show mixed results

SEBRING - What is the difference between an "A" and "F" elementary school in Florida? It's 131 points, according to the state's grading scale. A school with less than 395 points gets an "F," while a school with at least 525 points earns an "A." Principals and district administrators have been analyzing the numbers after elementary and middle school accountability grades were released last week. Many schools dropped a letter grade due to the tougher state standards.
Elementary school grades are determined by student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, such as the percentage of students who scored in level 3 (satisfactory) or higher on the reading, math and science FCAT. Learning gains and learning gains by students in the lowest 25 percent bracket also count toward the school grade. So what is the difference between an "A" school, such as Cracker Trail, and Memorial Elementary, which received the district's first "F" grade from the state this year? The following are the percentages of students who scored in Level 3 or above on the FCAT at Cracker Trail Elementary: 61 percent in reading, 67 percent in math, 70 percent in writing and 53 percent in science. For Memorial Elementary, those percentages were 45 percent in reading, 42 percent in math, 50 percent in writing and 44 percent in science. Memorial had the school district's lowest percentage (34 percent) of students in the lowest 25 percent who made math gains. In this category, Cracker Trail had 61 percent, while Lake Country led the elementary schools with 70 percent. There are eight scoring categories, with a maximum of 100 percent in each, for a total of 800 points. Cracker Trail tallied 529 points while Memorial had 358 points. v vThe middle school scale is a bit higher due to the inclusion of the end-of-course exams in the grading formula. School Board of Highlands County Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Brenda Longshore said many schools were close to achieving the next-higher letter grade, notably Sebring Middle School, which was one point short of an "A" grade. The grades will be analyzed and the department will take a deeper look at each one of the schools with the principals to make the necessary adjustments to continue "excellence in the county," she said. Were there any particular FCAT or end-of-course exams results that contributed to the lower school grades? "We took a hard hit in writing, but they (the state) raised the bar in writing; so when they change the game, it's difficult making those adjustments," Longshore said. Will there be any special measures taken at Memorial Elementary due to its "F" grade? "Yes, there will be some things that we will have to work through, certainly, but we are tackling those and already have some plans started," she said. School Board member Bill Brantley said there are a lot of schools that need quite a bit of improvement. The way the scoring system has changed and developed, it has been hard for schools to keep up. "The main thing is the state is changing the way they are grading things and it feels like it is putting us at a disadvantage," he said. "Even though the state might say they are an 'F,' I don't feel our schools are 'F's or 'D's because I think we have some very well run and efficient schools here in the county." mvalero@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5826