- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - More Florida elementary and middle schools earned a preliminary “A” on their annual 2014 school grades, state Department of Education officials said Friday.

The number earning an “F,” however, increased as well.

Overall, 962 elementary and middle schools earned the state’s top grade, a seven percent increase, the department said.

This year marks the final year for Florida’s current A-to-F grading system, which has been in place since 1999. A new state standardized exam is also being developed to align with the new Florida Standards, also known as the Common Core, a series of uniform academic benchmarks.

Under a special provision, no school will drop more than a grade level in 2014. The controversial rule was adopted after complaints the current system had become too complicated.

Some 192 schools benefited from the safety net, compared to 552 last year, according to the data.

Officials have said the new grading metrics will be more simple and transparent.

“Its focus on student achievement and gains will help ensure a fair accountability system that helps measure student knowledge of the new Florida Standards,” Education Commissioner Pamela Stewart said.

The current system determines grades based on test results for elementary and middle schools, and test scores, graduation rate and college readiness for high school. Schools get more points if higher numbers of their students take college-level courses and do well on tests like the SAT.

Hillsborough County saw biggest increase in the numbers of schools earning an “A.” Thirty-six elementary and middle schools earned an “A” in the 2013-14 school year, a 45 percent increase. Miami-Dade also saw a sizable jump, with 30 additional schools earning the top grade, a 43 percent rise.

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