Lot of good, a little bad mark Hillsborough County FCAT scores

More schools than ever scored A's. Five failed.

Published June 30, 2007

TAMPA -- First the good news: Hillsborough County schools earned more A's this year than in any previous year -- 106.

The bad news: They also got more F's -- five.

According to figures released Friday by the Florida Department of Education, 50 percent of Hillsborough schools earned A's this year for their students' performance on the FCAT. That's up from 45 percent last year.

The percentage of D and F schools doubled to 10 percent.

Considering that many districts were expecting a major drop in grades due to a new grading formula, superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she was pleased.

"We've been working really hard with our schools, and it's obvious we've got some schools that were able to raise themselves to that level," she said.

For the first time, FCAT science scores figured in to school grades this year, as well as a penalty that results in the loss of a letter grade for schools where a majority of the lowest-performing students don't show gains in math. That penalty had been limited to reading scores.

Still, Hillsborough's scores basically mirrored those registered by schools statewide.

Some Hillsborough schools became A schools for the first time. Tampa Bay Technical High School, which has been back and forth between a C and B since 1999, was one of them.

"I'm obviously very excited for our kids and teachers," said principal Christopher Farkas. "All year you hope your hard work correlates to the test scores."

Many of the new A schools were elementaries, including Cahoon, Egypt Lake, Davis, Woodbridge and Kingswood.

Student performance on the FCAT also determines whether schools make Adequate Yearly Progress, the accountability system mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. About two-thirds of Hillsborough schools failed to meet that standard, which carries possible sanctions.

Elia said she was pleased with the number of elementary and middle schools that made AYP, but said work needs to be done at the high school level.

None of the district's high schools made AYP, a fact punctuated by Lennard High School earning an F grade in its first year, the first time a Hillsborough high school has done so, according to district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.

Denny Oest, principal of the Ruskin school, said the score was not a total surprise.

With changes in the grading criteria and 75 percent of the student body not reading at grade level, "We thought there was the possibility we'd be a failing school," Oest said. "We knew the challenges up front and we didn't shy away from that."

He said the school's next step is to analyze the data and see what changes need to be made next year.

The four other schools receiving F grades were all low-income schools: Foster, Just, Potter and Sulpher Springs elementary schools.

"All of those schools have faced several challenges," Elia said, "but that's no excuse. What we have to do is dissect their data and determine what they've done right and what we need to do differently."

Amber Mobley can be reached at amobley@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.