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Published in Print: May 13, 1998, as Florida's 'List of Shame' ShrinksAs Legislators Hail Improvement

Florida's 'List of Shame' ShrinksAs Legislators Hail Improvement

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A substantially trimmed-down annual list of Florida's academically troubled schools was released to much fanfare in Tallahassee last week.

State leaders hailed the news as an indication that new and focused efforts to improve reading, writing, and mathematics achievement are paying off.

The list of "critically low-performing" schools--158 schools strong three years ago--shrank to just three this year, from 30 last year. All are elementary schools--two in Miami-Dade County and one in Palm Beach County.

The list, known around Florida as the "list of shame," was launched in 1995 to shine a spotlight on academically troubled schools. This year's list was released as Commissioner of Education Frank T. Brogan announced the results of the Florida Writes! state writing exam.

"Our public school teachers, principals, staff, and students deserve congratulations for the progress they are making," Mr. Brogan said at a Tallahassee elementary school on May 4. "As we continue to improve our accountability system, we see that Florida students can overcome obstacles and achieve at higher levels."

Some 24 states--including Florida--and the District of Columbia identify low-achieving schools. Florida, unlike some states, cannot seize control of failing schools or districts, said an education department spokesman, Brewser Brown. Rather, the state requires districts to intervene and collaborate on school improvement plans, with help from grants the state provides.

To get on the state list, a high percentage of a school's test scores--including Florida Writes! and other national reading and math assessments--must fall below minimum standards set by the state for two consecutive years. To get off the list, schools must meet the minimum standard on just one of those tests.

A Black Eye

Although administrators and teachers from low-performing schools laud the extra state help, they dislike having to face parents and the community with such a public black eye.

"It's really tough," said Janice C. Reineke, the principal of Miami-Dade's 1,043-student West Homestead Elementary School, which has been on the list for three years. "Everyone--teachers, parents, volunteers from the community--has been working so hard to make improvements, and we have made great strides. But we haven't made that benchmark."

The list "is not an indication that a school is deficient," she added. "And the media could do a lot to explain that."

Ms. Reineke expects that this year's math scores--she says the school has been "math crazed" this year--will relieve the school of its dubious distinction shortly.

For Anne Turner, the principal of Broward County's Pioneer Park Elementary School, that relief is sweet. Like Homestead Elementary, her 800-student school in Belle Glade has an overwhelmingly poor and transient student enrollment. After three years on the list, the school worked its way off this year with improvements on Florida Writes!. Ms. Turner said last week that staff members and students were ecstatic.

"Our hard work has definitely paid off," she said. "We've been working around the clock and Saturdays to improve writing and math. The pressure was intense, but ultimately it helped us, and we're proud of what we've achieved."

Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 18

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