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Browning: Mixed feelings about Pasco school grades

LAND O' LAKES - A "B" has become the default grade for high schools in Pasco County. Nine high schools, including four that were A schools a year ago, earned a B for 2012, according to preliminary high school grading results released Friday by the Florida Department of Education. Pasco also had three A high schools and one that received a D. Two Pasco schools improved a letter grade. Land O' Lakes High earned an A, up from a B last year, and Zephyrhills High scored a B, up from a C.
Seven Pasco schools maintained the same grade as a year ago. They were Wiregrass Ranch High, A; Sunlake High, B; Mitchell High, A; Gulf High, B; Ridgewood High, B; Hudson High, B; and Fivay High, D. The four former A schools that dropped to a B were Pasco High, Wesley Chapel High, River Ridge High and Anclote High. Superintendent Kurt Browning, who just took office a month ago, said he had mixed feelings about Pasco's showing, but was happy the school district had mostly A and B schools. "I'm trying to be positive and saying it could be a lot worse," he said. He expects Fivay, the D school, to improve by next year. Fivay is a newer high school and didn't have all the necessary past student data needed to help score the points for a better grade, he said. "My guess is they'll pop up to a B school next year," Browning said. He does have concerns about the way the state Legislature constantly tinkers with the grading criteria. "These grades were for the 2011-12 year and there were something like 31 different criteria changes that went into the way the grades were calculated (compared to 2010-11)," Browning said. Browning said he has shared his concerns with officials in Tallahassee. "You've got to put the target in one place, leave it alone and give us the opportunity to hit it," he said he told them. While the number of high schools with an A declined in Pasco, statewide it was a different story. In all, 231 Florida high schools and combination high schools received an A, up from 148 last year. Meanwhile, the number of F schools across the state declined from six to three. "I think you can see from these results overall our high schools increased performance," Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said in a conference call with the news media. Although the high school grades were released Friday, they are for the schools' performance in the 2011-12 academic year. Grades for middle and elementary schools were announced in June, but high school grades take longer to calculate because of a more complex formula. Student performance on assessment tests is part of that formula, but other factors include the school's graduation rate, along with student performance and participation in academically challenging courses, such as Advanced Placement classes. DOE reported that the results are encouraging given that the state moved to more rigorous standards. But officials noted that the grades also reflect the fact that the state Board of Education took measures to ease the transition to those tougher standards. Stewart hesitated to make predictions, but she cautioned that this year's grades could be something of an anomaly and 2013 grades might not be as high. That's because some of the factors for calculating grades weren't in full force this go-round, but will be for 2013 grades. For example, Stewart said, high school students have traditionally performed poorly in science assessments and biology end-of-course exams weren't included in the grading formula this year. Those biology results will factor into next year's grades. The results released Friday are considered preliminary because school districts have until Feb. 1 to file appeals.

rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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