70 percent of schools earn A's, B's

Thirty-four earn the top grade. At some schools, federal and state report cards conflict. Five face U.S. sanctions.

Published June 30, 2007

The administration at Lacoochee Elementary School was doing "the AYP dance" Friday afternoon.

The school made an A and met federal Adequate Yearly Progress requirements for the first time.

"We were so joyful," said Karen Marler, Lacoochee's principal. "I cannot tell you how blessed we all feel to have this opportunity to help students succeed."

Lacoochee was one of 12 Pasco schools to meet AYP, one of 34 to earn an A from the state and one of five to accomplish both. But not all schools had the same luck, and some were left with a discrepancy between their state grades and No Child Left Behind standards.

"We have a lot to be proud of and areas of concern," said Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

Fiorentino said she was happy to see that about 70 percent of the district's 63 schools that are graded received A's or B's and that the number of A schools increased from 23 to 34 within a year. The district overall received a B.

She said she was also excited to hear that 12 schools made AYP this year. Only one did last year.

And three Title 1 elementary schools -Lacoochee, Anclote and Schrader -- earned an A and met AYP.

Schrader, Lacoochee and West Zephyrhills elementary schools skirted federal sanctioning by making AYP.

Officials cited Learning Focus Solutions training as a major factor in the improvements because they said it helped schools focus on areas that need improvement and demonstrated how other schools have been successful.

Extra effort from teachers and parents also helped, they said.

The schools plan to continue programs and pinpoint other ways to keep up with state and federal standards, which get stricter each year.

This year, for example, science testing was considered in grade calculations, along with the learning gains of the 25 percent of students who performed lowest on the math test. High schools could receive bonus points for FCAT retakes.

For now, though, the schools are enjoying their success.

"I was at home taking some vacation days and my assistant called me on the phone and we were whooping it up over the phone," Schrader Elementary principal Mary Stelnicki said, laughing. "It certainly validated all the hard work teachers did this year."

But some schools didn't get to have the same celebration.

Five Title 1 schools failed to meet AYP for the fifth year in a row and will face federal sanctions. One of them is Rodney B. Cox Elementary, which also fell from a C to a D after its test scores slipped in reading, math and writing.

The schools will begin a "planning year" in the fall to decide what restructuring measures to take in the 2008-09 year.

Some schools got mixed grades, which had them receiving praise and punishment.

Northwest Elementary School jumped from a C to an A but didn't meet AYP. Its A will qualify it for special funding from the state, but it's one of the five schools facing federal sanctions.

To make AYP, schools must meet 39 criteria. If they don't meet one, they don't meet AYP standards.

Northwest didn't meet some of the math criteria, so the school is using its planning year to take a careful look at math programs, said principal Tracy Graziaplene. The school has hired a math resource teacher and is looking into other programs.

But she said they're pleased with their A and that students continued to make learning gains.

Now, they're determined to conquer AYP.

"Teachers were excited and tears were shed," Graziaplene said of the school's reaction to the grade. "We worked really hard throughout the school year to make a difference. The next step is making AYP."

Carrie Ritchie can be reached at critchie@sptimes.com.