Drop in the number of A-rated Palm Beach County elementary, middle schools

The number of A-graded schools in Palm Beach County fell this year, the victims of tougher standards imposed by the state on the school grading formula.

The number of county elementary and middle schools with an A grade fell significantly from last year to this year, according to school grades released this morning by the state Department of Education. Meanwhile, the number of elementary and middle schools with a D grade rose from six last year to 14 this year.

High school grades are expected in the winter; those grades include factors that are not part of the elementary and middle-school grading formula, such as graduation rates and student participation in accelerated course work.

Last year's only F-rated school, Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba charter school in West Palm Beach, managed to pull its grade up a letter, while Barton Elementary in Lake Worth took on the role as the only F school in the county.

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The drop in grades had been anticipated by state and district officials, in large part because of a slew of changes to the state grading formula.

In May, the state Board of Education voted to put a one-year rule in place to not let any school's grade fall more than one letter. But even with that stopgap measure, education officials expected to see grades drop.

"We'll have schools whose grade goes from an A to a B, but by points could be an F," predicted Marc Baron, chief of performance accountability for the Palm Beach County School District, in an interview more than a month ago.

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson sent a letter earlier this month to parents, urging them not to worry if their school's grade drops this year.

He noted that each time the state has "increased expectations" on school grades by revising the formula — this is the fifth time since 1999 it has done so — grades have dropped temporarily, then improved over time.

Indeed, Palm Beach County's grades reflect the grades of schools statewide. Overall, the percentage of elementary and middle schools with an A rating fell from 58 percent to 43 percent, while the number of D and F schools rose from 6 percent to 11 percent.

"This has been a year of tremendous change for Florida's students, teachers, and schools," Robinson said in a statement. "Florida's economic future depends on preparing our students for success. The high standards we have in place today will help our students prepare for college, the workforce and life."

Despite the tougher standards, several county schools increased their school grade. For instance, Palmetto Elementary in West Palm Beach jumped from a C to an A this year.

Three Palm Beach County schools received an incomplete rating: Roosevelt Elementary in West Palm Beach, Gove Elementary in Belle Glade and Mavericks High charter school in Palm Springs.

School grades debuted in 1999 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush as a way to provide transparency to parents and other stakeholders about the state of schools in their communities.

School grades have taken on such importance that they might even affect property values in neighborhoods that feed into a certain school. A good grade means more money flowing into the school — up to $100 per student for A-rated schools or schools that improve a letter grade. A bad grade means the school is put in a remedial program and monitored.

But with this latest group of changes to the grading formula, some question whether it's still a transparent system of showing how well a school is faring.

"The lack of transparency in how grades are calculated, it's a black box spitting out labels that people don't understand," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Massachusetts.

"It's definitely not an easy-to-understand system," said Mark Howard, the district's director of research, evaluation and assessment. "It's difficult for educators themselves to keep up with it." He added that many parents don't realize "just how complex this accountability system has become."

ON THE TREASURE COAST

Treasure Coast schools saw some grades drop a letter grade this year, reflecting the tougher test and new standards, according to grades released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education.

Martin County Schools was the only Treasure Coast district without grades below a B. Martin got 11 A's and six B's, with three high school grades pending. Indian River had 11 As, six Bs and four Cs, with three schools pending. St. Lucie had five As, 16 Bs, seven Cs and three Ds, with six high schools pending.

School grades were released Wednesday for elementary and middle schools. Grades are based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, which were released earlier. High school grades won't be released until later in the year because high school grades also include ACT/SAT scores, dropout rates and graduation rates, which

are not yet available.

Colleen Wixon, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers contributed to this report


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