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Elementary schools earn improved grades

One of the county's grade schools saw its rating go from a D to an A. But three middle schools saw their marks fall.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


INVERNESS -- When the state released school grades on Wednesday, the package included a nice present for outgoing Homosassa Elementary School principal Bob Brust.

Brust's school jumped from a disappointing D in 1999 to an A in 2000, making it the school with the greatest grade improvement in Citrus County and one of four A-grade elementary schools in Citrus.

Also earning A's were Inverness Primary, Lecanto Primary and Rock Crusher Elementary.

"I feel that at least I've moved it (the school) ahead in the way it needs to be going," said Brust, who starts a job at the county office next week. "It really does feel very, very good for the staff, to know they have validation in what they've been doing."

Citrus elementary schools certainly improved their grades this year. Aside from the A-level schools, one school jumped from C to B, while two others went from D to C.

But grades for three of the four middle schools dropped, as Crystal River, Inverness and Lecanto middle schools slipped from B to C.

Lecanto Middle School principal Jim Halcomb was not happy with the report. He said people need to understand what the grades really mean.

"I just hope that the community looks at this as another piece of data," he said. "This test does not measure the amount of exposure students have to technology, it doesn't measure the fine arts and other achievements of these children. . . . They need to understand this is a piece of the picture and not the whole picture."

The high school grades didn't change: All three earned a C.

"I'm very happy about the elementary scores because I was concerned about them last year and they made a real turn-around," said Superintendent Pete Kelly.

The challenge for the coming year: Bring up the middle and high school reading scores, he said.

"I'm certainly proud of the fact that we didn't have any D or F schools, and that means that our schools are all average or above average and they're going to keep getting better because our people don't want to be seen as average," Kelly said.

The grades are based primarily on the student showings on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. Writing is tested in fourth, eighth and 10th grades, reading in fourth, eighth and 10th and math is fifth, eighth and 10th.

Other factors considered in grades include how many eligible students take the test and the percentage of growth in the various subject areas.

The 2000 grades bring the Citrus schools' grade point average up from a straight C earned last year to about a C+

this year.

"That's wonderful," said Jan Morphew, director of research and accountability. "I'm especially excited for Homosassa."

"We're thrilled and we will accept our congratulations with a great deal of exhilaration. But at the same time, we're analyzing the results," said Terry Charles, principal at Inverness Primary. "And we know we still have stuff to do."

Charles said her leadership team toasted the A grade with sparkling cider during an impromptu lunch celebration. Bigger celebrations, which will include the entire school community, will be planned once classes resume in August.

"I'm just so excited and pleased and proud," said Nancy Simon, principal at Rock Crusher Elementary. "It's been an entire school effort. . . . This says that we're very focused, very aligned and working together."

At Homosassa, assistant principal Kevin Banks said there was real excitement among faculty members teaching summer school who learned about the A grade. "You could hear it throughout the school," he said. "We're all pretty excited over it, happy when you can turn a D school into an A school."

Homosassa earned a D last year because the school didn't have the minimum percentage of students passing the writing portion of the FCAT. This year, the school meets that minimum criteria and also achieved a higher-level criteria for writing, thus putting Homosassa in the running to receive a coveted A grade.

Banks said the school was anxious to find out what kind of additional funds could be coming as a result of the turnaround. Morphew noted that, with so much improvement in the elementary schools, all but two could be receiving additional dollars the state has set aside for schools that show improvements.

At the elementary level, only Floral City and Citrus Springs elementary schools didn't change. Citrus Springs actually got improvement money last year. Details of what dollars might be available for the other schools won't be known until later.

Administrators at the middle schools where grades dropped were not as happy.

"As a principal I feel shocked, disappointed and data confused," Halcomb said. "I'm shocked because I thought were were going to be an A school. . . . I'm disappointed because we have the Crown Region Teacher of the Year Jim Manos here as well as all the fine teachers and we've focused most of our academic attention on reading math and writing."

Halcomb said he was confused about the data because he knows how many of his students have excelled, earning high grades, taking college-level tests. Yet state tests show not a single student from his school earning at the highest reading level.

"You tell me how this data correlates," he said. "It's bizarre and I can tell you, it certainly didn't make my day."

Morphew said the problem for middle schools that dropped a grade, as well as the high schools, were the reading scores.

"The whole state dropped in eighth and 10th grade, but that doesn't make them feel any better," Morphew said.

District educators plan to meet next week to discuss ways to bring up the reading scores of middle and high school students. Much of what the FCAT requires is not the old kind of reading comprehension testing, but reading informational pieces and extracting details and using them.

"What reading has been in the past is literature, and that's not where the focus is on this test," Morphew said. "Seventy percent of it is reading in content areas. ... We have to find ways for reading to become an entire-school activity."

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