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North Central Florida Schools See Lower Grades Thanks To New Grading Procedure

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Schools in North Central Florida saw an overall drop when the Florida Department of Education released its school grades Friday.

Roughly two-thirds of the 162 schools graded in North Central Florida received a grade of C or lower. Twenty-three received an A and 32 received a B.

“This was the first year that school and district grades included student ‘learning gains’ on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), which replaced the FCAT in 2015,” according to an Alachua County Public Schools press release Friday. The learning gains refer to an increase in a student’s score on the test from one year to the next, and it’s a major factor in Florida’s school grading formula, according to the release. Four of the seven factors used to grade elementary schools are based on learning gains, according to the release.

The grades released Friday are preliminary grades, meaning schools are able to appeal the grades.

Alachua County saw an increase in its number of D and F schools. Last year, about 13 percent of Alachua County public schools received those grades, whereas this year, about 18 percent did.

As a whole, North Central Florida schools followed suit: Last year, 20 percent received D or F grades. This year, over 24 percent did.

Marion County Public Schools, the area’s largest school district with over 40,000 students, had three schools, among them its virtual school, receive F grades. No Marion County school received that grade last year.

Alachua County saw six schools improve their grades, though its percentage of  A and B schools is above the average for school districts in the area.

No school district in the area improved its overall grade. Only three of the state’s 67 districts received A grades: Okaloosa, St. Johns and Sarasota counties. Last year, three North Central Florida school districts and 22 districts around the state received an A.

School Table

Gadsden County is the only district in the state that raised its grade this year. It was one of three districts that received an overall D grade in 2015. It received a C in the latest assessment.

Former Gadsden County school board member, Audrey Lewis, attributed the district’s improvement to efforts to increase student achievement.

Lewis, who worked as an educator in Gadsden County, north of Tallahassee, for nearly four decades, said the district decided to “focus on those areas of weakness” and “encourage parents and community citizens to mentor and volunteer.”

While the district ranked near the bottom this year in most of the graded categories, it excelled in middle school acceleration, which measures the percentage of  middle school students who passed a high school level end-of-course assessment or industry certification. Gadsden County schools ranked in the top quarter of districts in that category this year.

School grades are based on a variety of factors, including student performance and learning gains on statewide assessments and — at the high school level — graduation rates.

Highlighting the importance of learning gains, 11 of the 33 schools in the area that received D or F grades in 2015 increased their grades. Madison County’s Greenville Elementary School, increased its grade from an F in 2015 to a B in 2016. However, this year, the number of D and F schools in the area increased by nearly one-fourth to 40.

“It is clear that our focus on Florida’s most struggling students is paying off, especially in our D and F schools, 58 percent of which increased their grade in 2016,” said Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart in a press release. “The great benefit of our state’s accountability system is that it constantly shines a light on areas that need improvement. I applaud the schools which improved, and I encourage all schools to pursue excellence persistently.”

Overall, the districts saw a drop in the percentage of schools that received either an A, B, or F grade, while the percentage of schools receiving C or D grades increased.

This does not include seven area schools that received incomplete grades. Schools that do not test 95 percent of students receive incomplete grades.

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