TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Nearly half of Florida’s high schools received an A grade for the past school year, despite additional changes to the state’s contentious grading formula.

The grades released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education show an increase in the number of A-graded schools for the 2012-13 school year.

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A total of 49 percent of high schools notched a top grade, while another 33 percent were given a B. Elementary and middle school grades were announced last summer.

Only one traditional high school got an F. Seven “combination” schools that include other grades received an F. That’s higher than last year when only three schools received an F.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and other education officials hailed the marks because they noted additional changes had been made to the grading formula that weren’t in place a year ago, including student performance on end-of-year tests in biology and a higher passing grade for a state writing test.

“It is a good news story,” Stewart said. “We are very proud of the work that our high schools have done, and they certainly have improved their performance over previous years.”

A handful of counties — Charlotte, Dixie, Flagler, Gilchrist, Martin and Wakulla — had only A-rated high schools.

The latest round of school grades comes amid an ongoing debate over the accuracy and complexity of the grading formula.

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While the grades for elementary and middle schools are based on test results, the grades for high schools are based on test scores, graduation rates and college readiness. Schools receive points based on how many students take college-level courses and how they score on tests such as the SAT.

Wary of all the changes, the State Board of Education adopted a safety net provision that prevents a school from dropping more than one letter grade a year.

Stewart said seven schools out of more than 500 statewide were helped by that provision, including two in Miami-Dade County and two in Duval County.

Gov. Rick Scott praised the results, saying it was a vindication of his decision to push for $480 million worth of pay raises in this year’s budget.

Stewart did caution the scores for next year could go down. That’s because under state rules, if more than 75 percent of high schools earn an A or B, it triggers a change in the formula to make it harder for schools to earn a top grade.

“We are always continuing to raise the bar,” Stewart said.

The scores released Wednesday are preliminary, and schools are given time to appeal the results.

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