July 9, 2008

Dade Schools See Jump in Grades

By Kathleen McGrory and Nirvi Shah, The Miami Herald

Jul. 9--The Miami-Dade school district halved the number of F-rated schools this year and earned an overall B grade from the state.

Additionally, the number of A-rated schools in the district jumped from 142 to 171. The grades, based on results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, were released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Education.

Four schools surged three letter grades higher than last year. Brentwood Elementary, Country Club Middle and Mater Academy for the Performing Arts all jumped from D to A. Miami Gardens Elementary improved from F to B.

Several of Miami-Dade's most challenged schools continued to struggle. Among them was Miami Edison Senior High, which slipped back to a failing grade amid hopes it would rise to a C.

Overall, schools Superintendent Rudy Crew was enthusiastic about the district's performance.

"I'm very impressed by the progress that everybody has showed this year, even the F schools," Crew said. "To me, this is a confirmation of the incredible effort that has been systematically applied to all of our schools."

Miami-Dade's gains mirrored improvement across Florida. Statewide, 1,583 schools earned A grades -- 100 more than in 2007. Additionally, there were 45 F schools, 38 fewer than the previous year.


In Broward, 141 schools earned A grades this year, about 20 more than last year. There were fewer F schools, too -- six, compared with last year's 10.

The Broward district earned an A grade from the state.

State Education Commissioner Eric Smith said Tuesday that he was pleased with the state's performance.

"Our long-term commitment to accountability and focused attention to teaching and learning has certainly paid off for children," he said.

There were local celebrations, too.

At Miami Gardens Elementary, administrators and teachers reveled in the school's impressive leap.

"I'm so proud of my kids," said Principal Johnnie Brown, who plans to celebrate with her students later this summer. "They worked so hard. They really wanted this."

Among the other success stories: Michael Krop Senior, which climbed from a C to an A. Principal Matthew Welker said partnerships with parents and the business community were essential to the school's success.

"Everybody joined the team and worked hard," he said. "They demonstrated that the school is something very special."

School grades are determined by a complex formula that looks at both current scores and annual improvement on the reading, math, writing and science FCATs. It makes little distinction between students who barely reach proficiency and those who ace the test.


The formula for high schools is likely to change next year. State education officials are devising a new formula that will take into account graduation rates and the percentage of students taking college-level courses, too.

Schools that receive an A or improve at least one letter grade receive $85 in reward money per student enrolled.

Last year, grades dropped dramatically, both in Miami-Dade and across the state. Observers blamed the slump on the science portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test being factored into grades for the first time.

Whenever the state raises the bar, "we see that initial increase in the number of F schools," said Juan Copa, the education department's research and evaluation chief. "But also after that bar has been raised, schools and district have responded."

In Miami-Dade this year, nearly half the schools received an A grade. About 89 percent of all schools earned an A, B or a C.

Multiple schools jumped from an F to a C, including Hialeah Senior, Carol City Middle, Lawrence Academy Charter, Benjamin Franklin Elementary, Downtown Miami Charter, Miami Park Elementary, Naranja Elementary, Pine Villa Elementary, West Homestead Elementary and Merrick Educational Center.

Some schools had less success.

Poinciana Park Elementary and North Miami Elementary were among schools that slipped from an A to a C. Miami Carol City Senior, North Miami Senior and Rosa Parks Charter School were among schools that tallied their second F in two years.

All told, 27 schools received a D grade and 13 received an F.


The grades were particularly significant within the School Improvement Zone, Crew's intensive-care program for long-struggling campuses.

The grades released Tuesday were the last for the three-year Zone initiative. Crew has all but staked his reputation on the success of the Zone.

Of the 39 Zone schools, only Santa Clara Elementary in Allapattah received an A grade.

"It was a long, hard road," said Principal Marie Caceres. "We had to convince the students and the teachers that it was possible, but once everybody believed, we went for it."

The three Zone elementary schools that earned A grades last year -- Bunche Park, Lakeview and Shadowlawn -- all slipped to C.

But four Zone middle schools -- Allapattah, Brownsville, Campbell Drive, and Madison -- jumped from F schools to C schools.

As for the senior high schools in the program, Booker T. Washington Senior, Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior and Northwestern Senior all improved to a D.

By contrast, Central Senior, Homestead Senior and Norland Senior earned a second straight F grade.

Crew acknowledged that a three-year program is not enough to elevate all chronically failing schools. He said more resources are necessary.

"What we know is that we used a strategy that has tremendous promise," Crew said. "We should, in some form or another, as resources become available, come back to it."

Looking ahead, some education officials fear that deep cuts to education budgets at the state and district levels could lead to a drop in student performance next year.

"Adequate funding is necessary to provide the kind of intervention and acceleration that we need," said Smith, the state education commissioner. "Our testing program itself is dependent on adequate funding."


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