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At Cox, D stands for dismay
The elementary school missed a state grade of C by a point; district staffers will review the records.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published July 5, 2007
DADE CITY - When she looks at her school's state grade report, Cox Elementary principal Leila Mizer can't help but shake her head in dismay.
If only one more fifth-grader had met grade-level expectations in science -- not an unreasonable expectation, as just 13 percent made the mark -- Cox could have earned a C rather than a D. All the school needed was one more point in the grading system to move up a letter, and one fifth-grader at 500-student Cox essentially represents the difference.
"Even though we have a D, I'm not accepting a D," Mizer said. "There's a possibility we may find that point."
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino plans to have her research and evaluation team pore through records to ensure that each Cox student was properly scored and accounted for.
"We're going to go back and challenge that grade and see if we can't find one point," Fiorentino said.
Schools can appeal their grades through July 30.
Cox's situation represents in many ways the tenuous nature of grading. The performance of just one child can make or break a school's reputation, which often gets boiled down to a single letter.
Sure, you might say, the point of school accountability is to leave no child behind, as the federal law proclaims. If too many individuals fail, so, too, should the school. It's no different than a senior getting a high school diploma with a 2.0 grade-point average, but not with a 1.9, right?
Yet mistakes can be made. Look no further than Brooksville Elementary School, which successfully convinced the state that its 2003 B should have been an A.
Brooksville's principal even challenged the state's initial denial of its appeal, saying the review report looked no different than the original, despite the school's assertion that mistakes existed in the first set of documents.
In that case, Brooksville stood to lose incentive money -- $100 per student -- connected to the school-grading program.
No cash is on the line for Cox -- it's all about morale.
Mizer and her staff worked tirelessly to educate a student body that's about 95 percent impoverished. Close to that percentage are English-language learners. They coaxed improved achievement out of 81 percent of the lowest quarter of students on FCAT math, and out of 63 percent of the lowest readers.
Almost 90 percent of students earned a passing mark in the FCAT writing exam.
Teachers said they have a hard time coming to grips with the D, knowing all the things they did to help students. Their disappointment isn't keeping them from looking ahead to what they can change for the coming school year, though.
"The whole point of assessment is to determine what your needs are ... not to say, 'This is it,' " math specialist Caroline Graham-Stewart said.
"We look at, ultimately, what did we do right? What do we need to fix?" third-grade teacher Amanda Hawk added. "Not just, 'Oh, we're a D.' "
The D just doesn't sit well with Cox, Pasco County's oldest elementary school, where students have made steady but slow improvement over the years.
"I'm really having a hard time with it. I just don't like being at the bottom," Mizer said. "I know it is going to be better next year."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.