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GAINESVILLE – It was report card time for Alachua County high schools as the Florida Department of Education released grades today for schools statewide.

Based on those grades, six of Alachua County’s seven high schools are classified as ‘high performing.’

Buchholz, Newberry and the Professional Academies Magnet (PAM) at Loften High School all earned ‘A’ grades, while Eastside, Gainesville and Santa Fe High earned ‘B’ grades. The state considers schools that earn ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades ‘high performing.’

Hawthorne High boosted its standing by receiving a grade of ‘C,’ up from a ‘D’ the last two years. Hawthorne significantly increased the number of students taking and passing high level courses and tests and graduating college-ready in 2011.

Newberry moved up a notch from a ‘B’ to take an ‘A’ grade this year and PAM @ Loften’s ‘A’ this year is three points higher than last year’s ‘D.’

“I’m so proud of the work that’s being done in our high schools by our teachers, administrators and the students,” said Superintendent Dan Boyd. “Despite rising standards and many other challenges, our schools are maintaining and boosting their academic performance.

High school grades are based on a combination of factors, including FCAT scores, graduation rates, and students’ success in advanced level courses and career/tech programs. Schools earn points based on student performance in each category, and the total number of points determines the grade.  However, some criteria, such as achievement of lowest-performing students, are weighted more heavily than others.

Eastside, GHS and Santa Fe all earned far more points than were needed for an ‘A’ grade, but were docked an entire letter grade based on the achievement of their lowest-performing students.

The state’s grading formula places a very heavy emphasis on the performance of those students who struggle the most. Schools can lose an entire letter either because their lowest performers didn’t do well enough on the FCAT test or because not enough of them graduated on time. The FCAT scores of what the state calls the ‘lowest quartile’ are actually counted several times under the state’s formula.

During a conference call with superintendents from across Florida, state officials reported that many high schools were penalized entire letter grades this year.

Eastside and Santa Fe both dropped to ‘B’ grades because of the FCAT scores of their lowest performers, while GHS was a ‘B’ due to the graduation rate of its at-risk students.

Statewide, 78 percent of Florida’s high schools were rated high performing. In Alachua County, that figure is 86 percent.

District officials say that the success of local high schools can’t be attributed to any one program or strategy.

“We have to come up with a variety of ways to educate our students, then constantly monitor and adjust what we’re doing to meet their needs,” said Sandy Hollinger, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction and Student Services. “Those efforts have to be sustained over the long haul, and that’s what we’re accomplishing.”