Hernando County schools see drop in school grades

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Preliminary school grades for the 2012-13 school year are in, and half of Hernando County’s elementary and middle schools received a lower grade than last year.

The district collectively maintained a C, which sets it apart from the 40 other districts in the state that went down a letter grade, or about 54 percent of all districts. In 2010 the district received an A, in 2011 the district received a B.

Statewide, not one school district received a higher grade than the previous year, Florida Department of Education data shows, and 28 school districts maintained the same grade.

Deltona Elementary was the only school to increase a letter grade, going from a D to a C.

Eastside Elementary received the worst grade of any school in the district by going from a D to an F: the first F in the district’s history.

Another eight schools also reported a one-grade drop, year over year.

Eight schools maintained their grade from the previous year. School Superintendent Lori Romano said superintendents across the state anticipated the state’s results.

“The reason for that is due to an increase in standards, and the state didn’t compromise with the increase,” Romano said. “We’re rolling out Common Core state standards right now, but the state basically sets the bar higher and higher each year.”

In that light, the fact that eight schools in the district maintained their current grade, and that Deltona Elementary increased from a D to a C, means more than the letter grade represents with those increased standards, she said.

“No. 1, I think Deltona needs to be highlighted. It actually increased a grade, the one school that did, and half our schools maintained their grade, so that’s substantial,” Romano said. “What that says is the system we have in place is working, and we have great teaching and leadership in that school at this point.”

The district made history in a way it didn’t want to when Eastside Elementary dropped from a D to an F. Romano said the district contacted the Regional Director for Differentiated Accountability on Friday, which is a system the state implements to help schools struggling to improve.

“She is sending us the state requirements for F schools, and that’s what the cabinet is going to be reviewing on Monday,” Romano said.

“Fox Chapel is the other concern, because it’s a double-D, but we’ll review what the state will require us to do for those two schools.”

High school grades will be released this winter, Romano said.

Director for School Improvement Eric Williams said the district did an in-house grade assessment prior to the state’s results, but high schools were not included in that study.

Williams said high schools were not included in the study because variables the state uses in its high school grade formula – such as industry certifications earned, post-secondary enrollment, and graduation rates – won’t be released until later.

Williams said the district’s grade suffered primarily due to FCAT Writing scores and learning gains for students who score in the bottom 25 percentile.

“At least 50 percent of your bottom learning gains has to improve to increase your letter grade,” Williams said. “So if we would have made more gains with our bottom quartile, our grades would have looked a lot better.”

Williams also said that correlates to Eastside Elementary receiving an F this year.

“When FCAT proficiency data came out, Eastside had gains in reading, math, and science assessment, but that didn’t really help them when it came to their school grades,” he said. “There’s several factors, among them bottom quartile gains.”

Eastside has a core problem, he said, which is when the majority of students are not performing at grade level.

“They have to really work at student’s foundational levels to be successful,” he said.

Williams and Romano cautioned that the FCAT accountability system will be gone in a year, so to make any substantial changes to accommodate FCAT as opposed to upcoming Common Core assessments, would not be practical.

“We’ve laid a strong foundation for school improvement in the district, and it takes time,” Romano said. “Student learning is going to be our focus, and we’re going to get through it, and come out better on the other side for kids.”

Preliminary data shows Hernando students scored 57 percent satisfactory or greater in science, 53 percent satisfactory or greater in writing, 58 percent satisfactory or greater in math, and 59 percent satisfactory or greater in reading.