School grades fall in the wake of tougher standards

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BRADENTON – Suncoast school districts joined others across the state in watching their grades fall, but officials insist that the results say more about the grading system than the school systems.

Statewide, the number of A-rated elementary and middle schools dropped from 48% to 29%, while the number of failing schools more than doubled.

“Not only disappointing, discouraging,” Manatee County Deputy Superintendent Diana Greene says. Forty percent of her district's schools received D or F grades. “It sends a message that we're not doing our jobs in public education when the reality is we are working harder than ever before.”

And it's not just traditional schools. Manatee Charter School got an F in its first year of existence. Charter Schools USA, which operates the school, says that that it uses its grade as only one measure of how well students have learned. “Are we pleased with with grade? We are not. it is not acceptable to us,” says Sherry Hage, Chief Academic Officer for Charter Schools USA.

Sarasota County did not have any D or F-rated schools, but had only 21 get an A, down from 34 of its 39 in 2013. And as proficiency standards still changing, district officials say the grades tell them little about how students do from year to year. “It is very much a frustration because the public will view as if we're using the same formula going against the same standards every year but we're not,” says Denise Cantalupo, Director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation for Sarasota County Schools.

And with something called Common Core standards coming, so will another accountability system. Meanwhile, Manatee Charter School is only one in that district that says it will adjust its approach to help make the grade. “We're going to expect different results this time next year, because we're going to do things differently,” says Greene. “We're going to review the practices that have worked, and continue those, but those that are not working, we're going to change.”

District officials will not wait until the end of the year to assess progress in schools. Principals will meet every month with instructional specialists from the district to look for problems – and fixes for them – as they come up.

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