- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Sparked by another round of changes to the state’s grading formula, the number of top-rated high schools in Florida dropped dramatically this year.

The Florida Department of Education on Thursday released new figures for 2014 that showed 60 schools across the state lost the coveted A grade. Last year nearly half of the state’s high schools had an A grade, while this year only 36 percent had the top mark. More than 500 schools were graded.

As a result of fewer A-rated schools, the number of schools given a B grade edged up from 30 percent to 35 percent, and the number of schools with a C grade jumped up as well.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said a key reason for the drop in A-rated schools was that the grading formula was changed to make it harder to earn a top grade. That trigger took effect because last year more than 75 percent of high schools received an A or B.

“As our high schools have improved over time it is important for us to consider that we want to continue moving the bar,” Stewart said.

But at the same time it’s yet another reminder of how complicated the school grading formula can be.

While the grades for elementary and middle schools are based primarily on test results, the grades for high schools are based on test scores, graduation rates and college readiness. Schools receive points based on how many students take college-level courses and how they score on tests such as the SAT.

Those factors can alter a grade. For example, 33 high schools were penalized a letter grade because they were not graduating enough students viewed as “at risk” because they entered 9th grade with low test grades.

Yet another variable is that the state still has intact a safety-net provision that prevents a school from dropping more than one letter grade a year.

Elementary and middle-school grades are announced over the summer, while high-school grades come half-way through the school year. Stewart said the delay is because the state bases them on graduation rates, which were also released Thursday. Florida’s overall high- school graduation rate is 76.1 percent, or about 5 percent higher than it was a year ago.

The way Florida hands out school grades will change yet again next year in an effort to simplify the formula.

The state is also moving to a new set of high-stakes test to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test that is used now. The new test is being drawn up to reflect the state’s new standards, which are primarily based on Common Core.

Back in August, Gov. Rick Scott said he planned to create an independent committee to review the contentious school standards. He also promised to have Stewart do a “thorough and comprehensive investigation” of the use of standardized tests.

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