Tampa Bay columnists
Mary Jo Melone
World & Nation
AP The Wire
Comics & Games
Home & Garden
Advertise with the Times
3 schools struggle to grasp drop from A to C
By SHARON TUBBS
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000
While many other Florida schools improved, state grades for three reputable Pinellas County schools plummeted, making them ineligible for extra funding and possibly stripping some luster from their reputations.
Ridgecrest Elementary and Oak Grove and Palm Harbor middle schools slipped from A grades to C's in Florida's second year of assigning grades to schools. While some other schools slipped a grade, the drop from top of the class to, well, average was disappointing for administrators and parents now searching for answers.
"I'm sure that people will be surprised by it," said Oak Grove principal Patricia Browne.
A year ago, the school basked in an A rating. Like more than 300 other schools statewide that got A's or showed great improvement, Oak Grove got a check from the state as its reward. Teachers used the $115,000 for library books and audiovisual equipment, among other things.
Oak Grove won't get that check this year. Nor will Palm Harbor get the nearly $139,000 it received. Ridgecrest was awarded about $68,000 last year for its A grade.
According to figures released this week, the three schools did not improve the percentage of students in their lowest reading level -- one requirement to maintain the A grade. So, although the schools' scores were actually better than some other schools', the three could not keep the A grade.
Educators noted that the state's grading system makes it tough to maintain an A grade. For instance, Ridgecrest, near Largo, had the highest math score in the county and the second-highest reading score. But, to maintain an A, state standards require that reading scores not drop by more than 2 percentage points. That, among other things, played a factor in Ridgecrest's C grade this year.
Ridgecrest principal Anne Stuckey called the grading system "unequitable" earlier this week.
Oak Grove's Browne said a number of factors, including how the state calculates the grades, probably contributed to the drop in grade at her school.
She noted that more eighth-graders were held back from the ninth grade this past school year than in the past three years. Eighth-graders -- as well as students in fourth, fifth and 10th grades -- take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which is used to calculate a school's overall grade.
Clearly this year's eighth-grade class was different from last year's, said Browne. The answer could be "just the fact that you have different kids," she said.
In the coming year, though, Browne wants to put more emphasis on reading at the school. "I think we need to look at reading as a class," she said.
The drop could harm the school's reputation, administrators said.
"People are very happy when you have an A," Browne said. "Everybody wants to go to an A school."
Pinellas schools spokesman Ron Stone noted that both middle schools have been well-regarded. "Oak Grove and Palm Harbor are excellent," Stone said.
In fact, Barry Berger moved to the Palm Harbor area about 14 years ago, in part because of the schools his daughters would attend. Berger now is co-chairman of Palm Harbor Middle's school advisory council.
"Obviously, we're somewhat disappointed and shocked," Berger said of the C grade.
"We have to make some kind of decision," Berger said. "Is it us? Is it the school? Or is it the whole grading concept?"
Berger and other parents and administrators will discuss the matter at a meeting in August, he said. Palm Harbor principal Pegoty Lopez was not available for comment Thursday.
Despite the grade, Berger thinks Palm Harbor gives students a first-rate education. His daughter, who just completed the eighth grade there, was accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at Palm Harbor University High School. Another daughter, in the seventh grade at the middle school, has excellent grades, he said.
Information from Times files was used in this report.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.