By Matt Wiley

It’s time for report cards. This may sound strange, considering that Pasco County students have been on summer vacation for weeks, but these report cards aren’t for them — they’re for the schools that those students attend.

This past school year marked the first year of increased standards for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) since the standards were last raised in 2007. Performance of each school’s students on the FCAT is one of the defining ways that public schools in Florida are evaluated. For this reason, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson sent out a letter to the parents of Florida students, warning them that many of their schools may see a drop in overall school grade.

“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.”

However, for Wesley Chapel schools, most of the news is very good news anyway. In fact, of the 10 elementary and middle schools in Wesley Chapel (Florida’s public high school grades will not be released until December), half of them earned an “A” for the 2011-12 school year, including Sand Pine, Wesley Chapel, Veterans and Double Branch elementaries (Double Branch improved from a ‘B’ in 2010-11), as well as Dr. John Long Middle School.

Two Wesley Chapel schools received a “B” — WaterGrass Elementary (WE) and Thomas E. Weightman Middle School — both of which earned “As” in 2010-11. New River and Quail Hollow elementaries each earned a “C” this school year.

This year’s drop isn’t as alarming as it looks on paper to WaterGrass principal Scott Mitchell, whose school dropped from an “A” in the two years previous. “The FCAT is only one assessment,” says Mitchell. “It’s important for the public’s perception when people are looking at schools, but we’re not going to get too upset about it.”

Mitchell says that he thinks that the increased standards for the FCAT definitely had a direct impact on his school’s score.

“We have to look further down the road,” he says. “But, if we change what we do every time the state changes its standards, we’ll never see any improvement.”

He referenced several variables that he thinks also contributed to WE’s lower score, including staff turnover. However, despite the drop in this year’s grade, Mitchell is confident that WaterGrass will bounce back.

“We’re looking at strategies to get our students back on track,” says Mitchell. “We’re going to spend some time having meetings to discuss what we can improve.”

Over at Weightman, assistant principal Nicole Sciarratta has a similar opinion about her school’s lower grade.

“Changing the grading criteria was a big factor in our grade,” she says. “Historically, we have been an ‘A’ school.”

Sciarratta says that through the school’s newsletter, parents were educated throughout the school year about how the standards were going to be different when it came time for the school’s evaluation. Since school grades have been released, she says that Weightman hasn’t received any calls from parents upset with the school’s ‘B’ grade this year.

“Our teachers and students work really hard,” she says. “Most of our students still made learning gains, which is important. We’re going to maintain a focus on both struggling and achieving students, so that we continue to tend to the needs of all of our students, as well as look at some other strategies we can put in place next year.”

Although Florida’s high school grades will not be released until December, both Wesley Chapel and Wiregrass Ranch High received “A” grades in 2011.

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