Two views on school grades

Federal reports show progress, but state grades slip at several schools based on FCAT.

Published June 30, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - There was good news and bad news Friday for Hernando County schools, as the state and federal governments once again offered differing views on the district's performance.

By Uncle Sam's reckoning there was improvement: Six of the county's 20 schools made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, up from three last year.

But the number of schools earning either an A or B grade under the state formula fell from 14 to 13, and top-performing Springstead High School slipped from a C to a D because of a lack of improvement on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test among its weakest students.

And the federal ax is falling on two schools, West Hernando Middle School and Spring Hill Elementary, which failed to make adequate yearly progress for a fifth straight year. Both schools must now write comprehensive restructuring plans that could include mandatory leadership changes, conversion to charter school status or a state takeover.

"It's kind of sad, when you look at the growth West Hernando has made in the last five years," said principal Joe Clifford, whose school earned its second straight A grade in the state system.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools must measure improvement among all groups of children -- including those in low-income, special needs and minority subgroups -- or face restructuring.

West Hernando is a low-income Title 1 school, with more than 50 percent of students receiving a free or reduced-fee lunch. It's also a center school for special-needs students, with 22 percent receiving extra services, compared to a state average of 14 percent.

Putting all of the neediest special education students in a few schools seems to create insoluble challenges under No Child Left Behind, Clifford said.

"In order to get extra federal funds for special-needs instruction, students need to be two or three years behind grade level," he said. "But to make (adequate yearly progress), you have to be on grade level. How do you win in that situation?"

Under the state system, low-performing groups of students must make steady progress.

While Springstead High earned more points than any other high school in the county, it was penalized by one letter grade because of low improvement rates among the bottom quarter of students, said principal Susan Duval.

"It turns out 11 students were the difference between a D and a C," she said. "All we needed to show improvement was 11 students. It's so disheartening, because they've worked so hard this year."

Hernando High School, which outscored both Nature Coast and Central High in total points, was penalized for the same reason and earned its third D grade.

All but one of Hernando County middle schools lost ground under the state system, with Powell dropping from A to B and Parrott dropping from A to C.

But there were also some bright spots. Suncoast, Pine Grove, and Chocachatti elementary schools all earned A grades and made adequate yearly progress, as did Challenger K-8 and Gulf Coast Academy.

Brooksville Elementary earned its third A but failed to make adequate yearly progress, while Moton Elementary slipped from an A to B but made adequate yearly progress.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.