By Matt Wiley

Just weeks after being released, controversy has erupted over Florida’s elementary and middle school grades. Several districts, including Hillsborough, have schools that should have scored higher. Luckily for New Tampa, nine of the ten elementary and middle schools in our area can’t score any higher — they each already scored an “A” and no New Tampa-based public elementary or middle school scored lower than a “B.”

In a statement on July 20, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) contacted 40 superintendents around Florida to notify them of revisions that would increase the scores for 213 of the more than 2,500 schools that had already received their grades on July 11. The grades for nine different school districts will increase as well, including Hillsborough, which will now receive a District grade of “B,” instead of its initial grade of “C.” However, high school grades will not be released until December.

While many schools around the District didn’t score as well, New Tampa’s public schools, as usual, received excellent grades, despite the more rigorous standards for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) that were put into effect this past school year. These increased standards are being blamed for many schools not performing as well as they had in previous years. The standards were last raised in 2007.

Since the performance of each school’s students on the FCAT is one of the defining ways that public schools in Florida are evaluated, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson sent out a letter to the parents of Florida’s students, warning them that many of their schools may see a drop in overall school grade.

But, he adds, “that does not necessarily mean that the schools, teachers or students are not doing as well as they were before,” he says in the letter. “Each time Florida’s school grading system has increased expectations, student performance has improved over time, which is the primary goal of Florida’s accountability system.”

One New Tampa school in particular has a lot to be proud of since the 2012 grades were released. Heritage Elementary, located just west of the intersection of Cross Creek Blvd. and Morris Bridge Rd., improved from a “B” in 2011 to an “A” this year.

“It feels awesome,” says Heritage principal MaryJo Stover. “Our students and teachers worked really hard. We’re very proud of them.”

Stover says that to improve on last year’s “B,” the school implemented a new enrichment program to single out specific skills that students needed to improve upon at each grade level. “We looked to see where our students needed more help,” Stover explains. “Different teachers would help different groups of students separated by grade level with specific skills in various subjects. Then, we evaluated the data.”

For example, she says that each of her six second grade teachers would focus on a certain skill area. The students would move from teacher to teacher, working on each skill with the respective teacher. This was done at each grade level.

“The teachers and students really rose to the occasion,” she says.

Grades for high schools are still pending and will not be released until December, but both Freedom and Wharton High received an “A” grade from the State DOE in 2011.

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