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County schools' marks mixed
By LINDA GIBSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 1999
Seven of Hillsborough's 159 public schools earned a grade of A on the state's first School Accountability Reports.
But 24 percent of the county's schools got D's, meaning they failed to meet minimum acceptable standards for student performance and attendance. Fifty percent got C's and 17 percent B's.
In Pinellas County, 18 of 118 schools achieved A's, the most A's of any district in the state.
Mandated by Gov. Jeb Bush's "A+
" education program, the annual reports will grade schools on how well their students do on state reading and math tests. Students who attend schools that earn two F's in four years will be eligible for vouchers to attend the school of their choice.
The highest grade any of Hillsborough's high schools got was a B. The others got C's. According to the accountability reports, that means they meet the minimum requirements.
"The good news is, we have no F schools," said school district spokesman Mark Hart. "In that regard, we achieved our goal."
If the grades for each school were assigned a numerical value on a four-point scale, like a student's grade point average, Hillsborough's overall average would be a 2.02, a low C.
Statewide, more than three-quarters of schools earned grades of C or D.
In the Tampa Bay area, only Sarasota and Polk counties had even one high school earning a grade of A. Plant High School in Tampa earned a B, although it has been recognized by the federal Department of Education as a National School of Excellence.
Despite earning the highest high school ranking in the county, principal Vince Sussman wasn't celebrating Thursday.
Sussman questioned the fairness of the whole process. For instance, he thinks the attendance category kept Plant from earning an A, although the school's average daily attendance is 92 percent.
"The whole system is designed to not make A schools," he said. "It's a political agenda to force students into private schools."
Karen Chandler, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said the reports are meant to help schools highlight their weaknesses and work on improving. "It's a wonderful incentive and a powerful accountability tool," she said.
The state doles out F's and D's solely on the basis of test scores in reading, writing and mathematics.
To receive a B, each "subgroup" of students at a school also must meet state standards on reading, math and writing tests. The subgroups include poor students, Hispanic students and African-American students.
Schools that earn A grades also must record absentee, suspension and dropout rates below the state average.
The overwhelming majority of high schools throughout Florida earned C's.
"That's positive, because that's the minimum criteria," Chandler said. "The objective is for all schools to reach that and then move up. The A and B grades are difficult and that's the point."
Hillsborough schools earning A's were Alafia Elementary, Claywood Elementary, Gorrie Elementary, Lincoln Magnet, Mitchell Elementary, Walden Lake Elementary and Wilson Middle.
Their A grades entitle them to an award of up to $100 per student. The money would come from the School Recognition Program, which received $15-million in funding this year. The amounts the schools will receive haven't been decided yet, Chandler said.
Among the county's 106 elementary schools, 34 were graded a D, 44 a C, 22 a B and six an A. Twenty-three of the 34 middle schools got C's, 5 each got B's or D's and one got an A.
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