Manatee school grades another sign of strong progress

July 15, 2014 

Superintendent Rick Mills speaks during a presentation of the 2014-2015 preliminary budget during a Manatee County School Board meeting Tuesday.PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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The Manatee County school district continues to make strong gains on the academic front. The latest report card, issued last Thursday by the state, shows marked improvements in middle and elementary school grades.

Seven schools jumped two letter grades. Only one performed this impressively in 2013.

Seventeen other schools rose by one grade compared with just five last year.

Fifteen schools earned A's, an improvement over the nine in 2013.

Only seven schools fell in the grading, better than the 30 last year. And the number of schools scoring D's and F's dropped from 30 in 2013 to 11 this year.

In the big picture, 80 percent of middle and elementary schools earned an A. B or C mark, a 20 percentage point jump over the previous year.

Superintendent Rick Mills is rightfully "very proud" of the students, teachers, parents and administrators for this impressive turnaround.

Certainly, more challenges await as the Florida Department of Education only gave the district an overall mark of C, unchanged since 2012.

Deputy Superintendent Diana Greene told the Manatee Tiger Bay Club exactly that last week: "We still have many challenges. We need you as a community."

But the solid school grades indicate -- once again -- the district is progressing beyond past disappointing showings.

In May, the DOE singled out Manatee County's district as one of only three statewide to be cited for congratulations -- with Manatee atop that short list.

Commissioner Pam Stewart applauded Manatee students and teachers for improving scores in all five assessment areas.

She highlighted fourth-grade writing scores, up nine percentage points from last year; third-grade math marks, up five percentage points; 10th-grade writing scores, up seven.

In June, the Manatee district was honored by the College Board for increasing access to Advanced Placement course work while also maintaining or increasing students scores of 3 or higher on AP exams.

Manatee was one of only two Florida school districts to win placement on the board's Fourth Annual AP District Honor Roll.

This points out the district is succeeding in identifying motivated and academically successful students and challenge them with the rigorous AP classes.

The new school grades reflect a growing trend toward greater academic achievement. Seven schools in particular merit applause, soaring a remarkable two letter grades:

Stewart Elementary, A; Tara Elementary, A; Moody Elementary, B; Oneco Elementary, B; Daughtrey Elementary, C; Lincoln Middle, C; Manatee Charter, C.

With the FCAT standardized test being replaced with one based on Florida Core Standards this coming school year, a new and quite different exam will be forthcoming. Sample questions can now be found online, at fsassessments.org. That allows students, parents and teachers to preview the new test.

A fresh challenge awaits. Plus, year-to-year comparisons will be difficult until new benchmarks are set.

Today, though, this community should stand proud of -- and united behind -- an education system on the rise.

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