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Schools

Pinellas County school grades hold steady

Pinellas schools keep pace with last year's state grades -- 75 percent A's and B's.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published June 30, 2007


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Twenty-one Pinellas schools increased their letter grade and 26 schools went down a grade as the district generally kept pace with past years' performance levels, according to numbers released Friday by the state.

Five elementary schools -- Azalea, Fairmount Park, Tyrone, Kings Highway and Lealman Avenue -- jumped from a C to an A.

District officials were holding their breath after their internal calculations led them to believe that Dixie Hollins High might be the district's first F high school. But the school came away with a D.

Five high schools -- Countryside, Gibbs, Northeast, Palm Harbor and St. Petersburg -- dropped a grade. Seminole, Osceola and Largo high schools increased their grade.

If there was a theme to Friday's numbers, it was that Pinellas' overall performance did not change much over previous years. The good news was limited, but so was the bad news.

Across all grades, 75 percent of schools got an A or a B -- about the same as the previous two years.

"While this isn't the only way to measure academic success, we're very pleased to see our students continue to perform at such a high level," superintendent Clayton Wilcox said.

None of the district's middle schools upped their grade from last year, unlike elementary and high schools. Six middle schools dropped their grade.

The culprit was clear, said deputy superintendent Julie Janssen.

"We need to work on science," she said, noting that FCAT science scores were included in grade calculations for the first time.

"It appears every one of them did what they needed to do (in reading and math). But science was a factor here. So we know where we're going to be focusing."

Science also was a factor in the grade declines at Countryside and Northeast high schools. At Gibbs, Palm Harbor University and St. Petersburg high schools, the issue was inadequate reading or math gains among the 25 percent of students who struggle most.

Along with grades, the state released its ratings under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The achievement gap between black and white students remained large, and little changed from past years.

On the reading portion of the FCAT, Pinellas black students trail their white counterparts by 35 percentage points. In math, the deficit was 38 points.

However, black students continued to make a better showing in their graduation rates.

Earlier this decade, fewer than 40 percent of black students graduated on time with a standard diploma and were nearly 30 percentage points behind their white counterparts in that area. The gap contained in Friday's numbers was down to 22 percent.

Janssen, the deputy superintendent, attributed the improvement to a change in philosophy. High schools now treat the terms "freshman," "sophomore" and "junior" as labels to be avoided with struggling students, she said.

Students who don't acquire enough credits to progress along a traditional high school timetable can get discouraged, she said. Now, they are told to focus instead on being within range of graduating by their third year.

"It's a philosophy of moving them forward instead of keeping them back," Janssen said.

[Last modified June 30, 2007, 07:09:06]


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