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Schools get low marks from state

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:48 PM

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Local educators are discounting a new report that shows a dramatic drop in school grades and are cautioning parents not to read too much into the results, which they said were predicted because of stricter testing methods.

The new state grades released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) show 10 of Hernando County's 18 elementary and middle schools dropped a full grade from last year.

Six schools remain the same and only one – Chocachatti Elementary School – went up a grade.

Last year, none of the schools had D grades, while now there are three: Eastside Elementary, Fox Chapel Middle and Deltona Elementary.

Winding Waters K-8, which got a B, was not in existence last year and so could not be factored into the year-to-year comparison.

Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology, a charter school, maintained its A grade.

Weeki Wachee was the only high school to receive a year-over-year letter grade and it remained a B school. The other high schools' grades are pending and will be released later.

School Board member James Yant said this is a way for the state — which is facing a revenue crisis — to find ways to lower school grades and reduce funding to local schools.

"They won't say that bit that is my opinion," Yant said.

If students score lower on the test, the state has less of a commitment in funding, he said.

"All you have to do is manipulate and change the scoring and that means the student will score lower," Yant said.

Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, called the grades a misrepresentation brought about by the state raising the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scoring benchmarks, which caused not only Hernando but the entire state to have lower results.

Last year the state had 1,481 schools receive A grades. This year the number dropped to 1,124 schools. The number of schools that received D and F grades increased.

"The whole state went down and that should tell us something," Vitalo said.

Vitalo said these new grades are not a fair assessment of the schools, educators or students and are another indictment of trying to teach to a test. It also pus an unfair blemish on individual schools, he said.

"You don't have one or two schools that just went down you have a whole group that went down, so you're saying that all education is bad?" Vitalo asked.

Vitalo said educators should glean what they can from the new grades, look for "root causes" by breaking down the sub sections of the FCAT test and identifying individual student needs.

Under a system first launched by former Gov. Jeb Bush the state hands out grades of A to F that are used to reward top schools and sanction those that get failing marks.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson earlier this month warned that the school grades would drop because of recent changes to the state's grading system.

The state Board of Education in May voted not to let any school drop more than one letter grade.

Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andy Ford said in a prepared statement the school grades are of little value and that many teachers and education professionals don't have faith in the arbitrary manner in which the state calculates the grades.

"The FEA has not wavered in the belief that all schools — public, charter and private schools that receive public funding — should be held accountable for teaching and learning, have high standards and produce rigorous programs," Ford said.

"But since its inception 14 years ago, the FCAT has evolved from a simple diagnostic measure of student learning to an all-encompassing arbiter of student, teacher and school performance," Ford said.

Ford went on to say the FEA and teachers "lack confidence in the FCAT and how test results are being misused."

Hernando County School Superintendent Bryan Blavatt couldn't be reached for comment.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. (352) 544-5290

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