High schools’ grades improve in Collier, Lee

Nearly half of Collier County’s nine high schools improved their letter grades on the 2011-12 report card released Friday by the Florida Department of Education — including one that traded its F for a C.

All but one of Lee County’s 16 high schools scored an A or a B.

Emotions ran high at Everglades City School, where Principal Bob Spano said faculty members were ecstatic to learn of the improved grade, which prompted tears from at least one member of the staff.

“That tag as an F, it’s a pretty ugly thing and they were just very pleased and relieved that that stigma is no longer here,” he said.

District-wide, Friday was a “good day” for local schools and students, Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said. No school dropped a grade or scored below a C. Four of the district’s nine high schools received an A, including two that have never before scored the top mark: Lely High School and Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology.

“It helps tell us we’re all on the right track,” Patton said.

The grades released Friday are preliminary and only include high schools. Elementary and middle school grades were released in July.

High school grades rose across the state this year, with 231 of 491 schools scoring an A in 2012, up from 148 last year. That’s a 16 percent gain.

In Lee County, 10 of the district’s 16 high schools scored an A in 2012. The other schools all scored B’s, other than East Lee County High School, which received a D.

“This is good news for our district, our students and our community — and we will continue to work hard to move all our schools toward increased academic achievement,” Lee schools Superintendent Joseph Burke said in a prepared statement.

Partly responsible for the improvements at schools statewide are buffers put in place by the Department of Education to ease the transition to a more stringent grading system. Among the changes this year is a more rigorous graduation rate calculation.

To keep schools from seeing major grade fluctuations, no school was allowed to drop more than one letter grade or penalized with a letter grade drop if less than half of the lowest-performing students did not make learning gains.

Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said that makes it difficult to compare 2012 grades to 2011. But overall, schools improved between the two years, she said.

Patton said that’s true for Collier County schools. Even if the state had applied the penalty for not increasing the achievement of the lowest-performing students, the district’s grades would have remained the same, she said.

“We’re proud that we were able to do that,” Patton said, crediting a focus on data as at least partially responsible for the district’s improvements.

Next year, standards will again become more rigorous, with high school grades including biology and geometry end of course assessments. The state also will remove temporary safeguards put in place for the 2012 grades.

Stewart did not want to comment on whether that would lead to lower grades next year, but said it will be more difficult to earn the same grades seen this year.

Because of that, Patton said it’s important the district doesn’t rest on its laurels.

“We can’t do the same and expect these same results,” she said, “because the bar’s already being raised.”

Collier County high school grades, 2012-11 and 2011-10:

■ Everglades City School - C, F

■ Naples High School - B, C

■ Lely High School - A, B

■ Immokalee High School - C, C

■ Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology - A, C

■ Barron Collier High School - A, A

■ Gulf Coast High School - A, B

■ Palmetto Ridge High School - B, B

■ Golden Gate High School - C, C

South Lee County high school grades, 2012-11 and 2011-10

■Cypress Lake High School - A, A

■Estero High School - A, B

■South Fort Myers High School - A, C

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