Tampa bay turnaround schools need more work after poor fcat results gas 76

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Florida’s turnaround program is an experiment intended to break a cycle of low performance by forcing dramatic remedies on the state’s most struggling schools. But recently released test results — a confounding mix of wins and losses — leave no clear picture of what does and doesn’t work.

A few years ago, Florida started pushing chronically struggling schools to act sooner to make improvements or face serious consequences. The 2013-14 school year was the first year under the new system in which schools started their turnaround plans. Most chose the least drastic option of replacing principals and teachers. But if that step doesn’t work, state law calls for more serious measures — including converting to a charter school or closing the school.

State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said it was too early to predict whether turnaround schools were successful. School grades, which include learning gains and will be released later this summer, will provide a better view of the schools’ performance, she said.

In addition to adding fresh blood, area turnaround schools tried a variety of strategies — addressing behavior problems, lowering class sizes, coaching children in smaller groups, lengthening the school day, trying harder to get parents involved.

Lacoochee Elementary, which got a new principal and replaced half its classroom teachers, held steady or made gains in nearly every subject and grade tested. Others, like Melrose, took similar actions — replacing its principal and most of its teachers — but had disappointing scores.

With the release of this year’s scores, Pinellas County superintendent Mike Grego said improvement would take time. He praised schools for celebrating students for whatever successes they had. Melrose, for instance, sent students on a limo ride and gave them tickets to see the Tampa Bay Rays after they had a double-digit gain in fourth-grade writing scores.

Nanette Grasso, Melrose’s new principal, said in an email that the number of students who earned all A’s rose to 23 from eight at the beginning of the school year. Discipline referrals dropped 50 percent, and more than 200 people came to kindergarten "graduation" this year. Students, she said, started taking homework assignments more seriously, too.

Turnaround schools were given two years to improve, but will effectively get three because of the state’s transition to the new Florida Standards, which represent a slight revision of the Common Core State Standards. Schools taught to the new, more rigorous standards this year, but were tested under the old ones. To ease the transition, no school in the state will see repercussions from test scores in the 2014-15 school year.

District officials didn’t learn until too late last year that Hudson had earned a third consecutive D, and Browning didn’t want to change teachers just weeks before classes were to begin. Hudson, which did get a new principal, didn’t see as much improvement as Lacoochee.

Dave Rosenberger, a veteran principal in his first year at the school, said one of his biggest goals was to get students in class and keep them there, mostly by addressing tardiness and behavior issues. Eighth-graders were harder to convince, but overall the atmosphere was more civil.

The school, which changed about 30 percent of its teachers, held steady or rose in most grades and subjects tested. Some teachers were disappointed that scores didn’t rise dramatically, but he said that such expectations were a bit unrealistic in the first year of a turnaround.