MANATEE -- Four of seven high schools in the Manatee County School District earned A grades from the state, the district announced Wednesday. And the other three high schools earned B's.
The evaluations are included in the Florida Department of Educations 2013 High School Accountability Grades, which cover the 2012-13 school year.
Braden River, Lakewood Ranch and Southeast high schools and Manatee School for the Arts all earned As.
Palmetto High went from a C in 2012 to a B this year. Bayshore held steady with a B.
Manatee slipped from an A in 2012 to a B this year. The school district said Manatee didn't meet the bottom quartile growth requirement in math.
Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instructional services, said school grades are guidelines for moving forward. Over the past four years, for example, Southeast High School improved from a D to an A.
"A lot has to do with focus, and focusing on the areas that impact not only student achievement, but also our No. 1 goal, which is about graduating students who are prepared for college or career," Greene said. "When we are focused on that goal, everything else improves."
Greene noted that Manatee High School only missed the required 50 percent of growth in the bottom quartile in math by one point.
"This is still an amazing feat," Greene said. "I am sure they are disappointed, but their grade was not dropped for a lack of improvement."
The state grades high schools based on student test performance, graduation rates and other factors.
Half the grade is based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test components -- reading, writing and math -- for up to 800 possible points.
The other half is based on new high school components, which includes student performance and participation in rigorous courses such as advanced placement, international baccalaureate and dual enrollment, the postsecondary readiness of students measured by the SAT, ACT, or College Placement Test and the high school graduation rate of at-risk students.
Florida released grades for the rest of its public schools over the summer amid a controversy over the accuracy of the grading formula.
The state's new safety net provision prevents a school from dropping more than one letter grade in a year.
Greene said Manatee High School was the only high school dropping a letter grade, and because it was only by one point, the safety net had no bearing.
Sarasota County high schools also earned A and B grades, although three school grades declined. Sarasota High School, Riverview High School and North Port High School dipped from an A to a B. Booker High School and Venice Senior High School maintained Bs.
Florida Virtual School received a B in its first school grade.
Manatee County School District elementary schools and middle schools are still struggling, with eight taking a failing grade.
Greene said elementary school grades only consider FCAT scores for a possible total of 800 points, while high school grades consider a number of factors other than test scores.
"The elementary schools are more focused on the mastery of the standards based on grade level," Greene said.
Each Manatee County school has an improvement plan with short- and long-term goals, especially as requirements become more challenging.
"We are excited today, but we still have a lot more work to maintain those school grades," Greene said. "It only takes one point to knock you down an entire letter grade. It can be discouraging, especially when you know you worked hard."
Greene credited all teachers and staff in the high schools.
"It gives comfort that no matter what high school in the district you attend, you have an opportunity for a great education," Greene said.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.