7 local schools get an A, down from 21 in 2012


The Caring and Sharing Learning School, shown in this May 11, 2011 file photo, improved its school grade from an F to a B.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 9:23 p.m.

The Florida Department of Education released preliminary school grades for elementary and middle schools Friday, and, as expected, grades were lower than last year's.

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The Caring and Sharing Learning School, shown in this May 11, 2011 file photo, improved its school grade from an F to a B.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

State officials predicted the drop as a result of Florida's ever-changing and increasingly complicated accountability formula, which grades schools on an A-to-F scale.




Statewide, the number of A schools dropped from 48 percent last year to 29 percent in 2013, according to a release by the DOE.

In Alachua County, the number of A schools dropped by two-thirds, with only seven schools receiving top marks, down from 21 last year.

"I don't think it was unexpected," said Karen Clarke, assistant superintendent for student support and curriculum of Alachua County Schools.

Clarke said it's disappointing to see school grades slip, but it's important to remember why.

In Alachua County's lowest-performing schools, she said, children are coming in more than a year behind pace for their grade level.

"All of (the schools) made gains," she said, but the overall result was still below par for state standards.

Clarke said the remedial measures put in place by the district last year, including an extra hour of reading instruction for seven elementary schools that turned up in the state's list of the 100 lowest performers, are not a magic bullet for turning school grades around.

"That's not a quick fix," she said. "Obviously, it's not something that's going to happen overnight."

The state has also gone back and forth on the proficiency score for FCAT writing — one of the numbers used to calculate school grades in Florida's increasingly complicated accountability formula.

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett underscored that change during a conference call on school grades Friday.

"Our standards didn't change. Our assessments didn't change," he said. "Our expectations did."

Of the 50 public schools, charter schools and learning centers rated in Alachua County, seven schools received an A, 17 had Bs, six had Cs, five had Ds and four received Fs.

The A schools are Chiles, Hidden Oak, Littlewood, Newberry and Wiles elementary schools, and the One Room School House and Alachua Learning Center charter schools.

This year, Littlewood received its seventh consecutive A.

Five schools improved their grades since last year. Most schools rose by one letter grade, but Caring and Sharing Learning school jumped from an F in 2012 to a B this year.

Three of the seven elementary schools that extended their days by one hour of reading instruction this year showed improvement, including Caring and Sharing, according to the release.

The others were Waldo Community School, which rose from a D to a C, and Metcalfe Elementary, which improved from an F to a D.

The elementary school section of Sweetwater Branch Academy, a charter school, received its third F in a row, and could face closure.

Earlier this month, the state board of education passed a "safety net" measure that prevents schools from falling more than one letter grade in a year. Bennett estimated the measure protected about 550 of Florida's schools from harsher grades.

In Alachua County, letter-grade drops at five schools were buffered by the safety net. They include Terwillinger Elementary and Westwood Middle School, which both dropped to B; Sweetwater Branch Academy, which earned a C; and Duval Elementary and Rawlings Elementary, which both dropped to D.

"I see what we have done as being a continuation of Florida's long-standing commitment to data-driven accountability," Bennett said Friday.

The across-the-board drop in school grades is indicative of Florida raising the bar for education, he said. A similar drop was reflected every time the state changed its standards or testing method.

The lower grades in Alachua County shouldn't necessarily change parents' minds about their children's schools, said Clarke, who is a parent. It's more important to ask whether the school is serving your child's needs.

"I think you have to evaluate your own child's performance," she said.

The Department of Education also released letter grades for school districts, with several dropping a grade. In North Central Florida, only Gilchrist County held an A rating. Alachua and Dixie counties fell from B to C, where they are joined by Levy County. Union County dropped to a B. Suwannee County fell to a D. Marion and Columbia maintained their grades of C, and Bradford its D.

High school grades will not come out until December or January, after spring graduation rates and other data are added. But they were figured in district grades based solely on student test scores.

The school grades come as some state leaders have expressed doubts about whether the 15-year-old, A-to-F grading system accurately gauges school performance.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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