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64% of Sarasota County Schools Get State A's; 66% Fail No Child Left Behind

SARASOTA COUNTY -- Sarasota schools remain some of the best in the state, according to school grades released Tuesday, but they continue to lag behind the federal government's standard of success.

Gov. Jeb Bush released the results of both federal and state accountability systems Tuesday, creating a confusing picture that left educators struggling to explain how a school did well on one measure and not on another.

The state plan measures how a school performs overall, and the federal plan, established by President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation, tracks the overall performance and the performance of groups of students, such as minorities and the learning disabled. Both base their results on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment scores.

If even a single group fails to measure up, the school hasn't met the federal standard.

"The very fact that you have A schools that did not achieve (the federal standard) shows that there's an inconsistency," said Sarasota County Associate Superintendent Lori White. "When you dig deeper and see how (it is) determined, you can still see that it is a high-quality school."

This year, 64 percent of Sarasota County's schools earned A's, ranking the district among the top 10 in the state.

Another 19 percent earned B's, and 17 percent earned C's under the state program. There were no D or F schools.

Two-thirds of the Sarasota district's schools -- including 11 that earned A's from the state -- failed to meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standard.

In Manatee County, more than 80 percent of schools failed to make AYP. In Charlotte, 70 percent missed that mark.

The same contradiction played out across the state, with 70 percent of schools earning A's or B's and three-quarters failing to meet the federal standards.

In Sarasota, most schools failing to meet the federal mark aren't reaching black students, students with disabilities and those with limited English skills.

Sarasota school officials have long recognized that minority students trail their white classmates on tests like the FCAT. Tuesday's results only confirmed that.

Countywide, black students failed to hit the federal measure in math and students with limited English skills floundered in reading and math.

Superintendent Gary Norris has promised to address the achievement gap between white and minority students. He said the federal focus on all students is a good thing.

"The part that I have no argument over is that it's causing us to look at the various subgroups of kids and it's causing us to focus resources in areas where we're lagging behind," he said.

One school Tuesday showed that it's possible to succeed with a diverse student population.

Alta Vista Elementary, once a D school, joined Sarasota's top-ranked schools Tuesday by earning an A.

Principal Constance White-Davis, who promised her students and staff lobster if they could reach what once seemed an impossible A, was reveling in the prospect of finding enough of the crustaceans for an upcoming celebration.

Escaping briefly from training with other principals, White-Davis stopped by her school to thank the staff and students gathered for summer school.

"It's taken a long time, I feel, but we were always increasing and improving, so you wait for this day," she said.

White-Davis was too excited about the A to be bothered that her school didn't make AYP. In fact, she was just happy that it came close.

While the intent of No Child Left Behind is to see that all students get a good education, only some schools face consequences when their students aren't performing.

That's because those schools -- schools with large numbers of poor students -- get the bulk of federal education funding. They're known as Title I schools.

Once a Title I school misses the federal standard twice, it must offer its students transportation to another, higher-achieving school using some of its federal funding.

In Sarasota, seven schools would have fallen in that category.

But White said the district already offered choice to all of its students and won't offer a second chance at choice just for schools that didn't make AYP.

— Laura Green
Herald Tribune


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