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    Two area schools appeal their F's

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 22, 2002

    Two Tampa Bay area schools are appealing their recent F grades.

    Pinellas County school officials contend that the F given to Blanton Elementary was unfair because a dropout prevention program on the campus is a "school within a school" and those students' test scores should not count.

    Hillsborough County, which had four F schools, has appealed the F given Shaw Elementary, contending that the school was essentially made over into a new school last year with new teachers and administrators. A school is not graded the first year.

    At Blanton in St. Petersburg, the Alpha dropout program serves 60 students from area schools, and although it is on the Blanton campus it has its own budget and staff.

    "The Alpha students voluntarily participate in this program for a year and are assigned from several feeder schools," school officials wrote in a letter to the Florida Department of Education. "As such, the Alpha students should be removed from the calculation of the school grade for Blanton Elementary."

    Blanton principal Deborah Turner said one criterion for admission into the Alpha program is low test scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which is used to assign school grades.

    Blanton was one of two Pinellas schools to get an F for the just-completed school year, the first time any Pinellas school earned the grade. Blanton needed 280 points under the state's new grading criteria, but received 278. So the slightest change in the number of students whose scores count could help Blanton avoid the failing grade.

    Pinellas also is asking the state to change the "incomplete" grade given to Southern Oak Elementary in Largo. Test results for three of Southern Oak's four fourth-grade classes were lost or misplaced for some time. Under state rules, if a school does not test at least 90 percent of its eligible students, it receives an I or a reduced grade. If Southern Oak's appeal is granted, it likely would receive a C, the same as last year.

    Hillsborough is advancing an unusual argument on behalf of Shaw Elementary in Tampa. "It has the same name and the same school number, but in many ways it's a different school," said John Hilderbrand, director of assessment for the school district.

    School districts appeal grades each year, and some are successful. Last year, 21 Tampa Bay area schools appealed their grades; six grades were changed, including one in Pinellas and five in Hillsborough.

    The Department of Education tried to cut down on the number of appeals this year, by requiring districts to determine, before the grades were announced, which students' scores should be counted.

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