Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Education

School leaders dig into latest state test results

LAND O'LAKES — The latest round of state testing results, released last Friday, sent Pasco County school leaders wading into data reports to figure out exactly what the outcome meant.

Generally speaking, district students had higher passing rates than the state overall, with many grade levels showing improvement. But the interest ran much deeper than simply looking at passing rates.

Several principals focused on figuring out what their school grades might look like in July. Struggling schools such as Lacoochee and Hudson elementaries and Fivay High face major overhauls if their marks don't rise.

And changes to the state's school grading system this year have many officials, at the local and state level, raising concerns that the 2013 grades won't reflect the improvement that many schools and students have seen.

Lacoochee, for instance, saw its fifth-grade FCAT passing rate on the three tests — reading, math and science — rise by a combined 82 points. But its fourth-graders' proficiency in writing dropped significantly, particularly when taking into account the state's decision to increase the passing score from 3.0 last year to 3.5 this year.

Under the 2012 standard, Lacoochee had 92 percent of students considered passing. This year, 26 percent of Lacoochee fourth-graders met the mark, a 66-point drop.

"Lower school performance grades will not be the result of lower student performance, but will be caused by changes the state has made, yet again, to the School Performance Grading formula," Wally Cox, president of the Florida superintendents association, wrote last week to the State Board of Education. "The ever-changing nature of the School Performance Grading formula and its resulting outcomes continue to confuse the public and further erode trust in the state's accountability system."

The association asked for some relief from the state, at least for the short term. State Board vice chairman John Padget, for one, did not sound flexible on the issue.

"Fortunately, Florida continues to raise the bar for students and schools. The impacts of the revised school grading formula were well-known and fully discussed in the weeks and months before the new rule was adopted by the state board on Feb. 28, 2012," Padget said via email. "Some schools and districts may not have improved enough to reach the higher bar and maintain their prior grade. So be it."

Still the concerns remained.

Cotee River Elementary School's proficiency rates increased in just about all grade levels on all portions of the exam. Even among high performing students, principal Lou Cerreta said, the school saw academic gains at higher levels than the year before.

But its writing performance threatened to tamp down Cotee River's grade, too.

"The changing of the scoring criteria in writing hurts us," said Cerreta, who projected a C grade for his school. "That's sad, because it takes away from the gains we had."

The State Board of Education also ended its suspension of the rule that lowered a school's grade by one letter if it didn't get gains from at least half of the lowest performing quarter of students. And unlike past years, the board applied that rule to math results, and not just reading scores.

That has Calusa Elementary principal Kara Merlin concerned her school might receive a second straight D, even as students' passing rates showed strong improvement, particularly in third and fifth grades.

"We celebrate those small wins," Merlin said. "But then we dig deeper."

That means taking a closer look at the practices that teachers used to better student performance, as well as those that were ineffective. Many principals said that giving teams of teachers more time to collaborate generated the improvements that they did get.

Cerreta spoke of using a literacy team, for instance, to help teachers monitor student progress in reading, while pushing more independent reading time for children. Merlin said the joint planning time gave teachers insights into best practices, and the next step is improving lesson execution in the classrooms.

"One of the pieces we're still working on with our teams ... is giving them coverage so they can watch each other," she said. "It sounds simplistic, I guess. But it's really important. Internships are short. We don't always get to see others teaching."

They're open to any ideas to improving proficiency, and not just making gains. Many schools have already begun bringing teams of teacher leaders back to campus to plan for the coming year.

Tom Barker, principal of Crews Lake Middle, said he's planning to make adjustments to the school staffing and teacher training as a result of the recent FCAT and end-of-course exam scores. He also has to assess how to deal with the numbers from Shady Hills Elementary, which is merging with Crews Lake for the next couple of years during a construction project.

Dealing with the details and determining next steps leave little time to worry about the state grades, which Barker called a "public relations piece."

"I don't want to put too much emphasis on the school grade. We acknowledge it and then we move on," he said. "Breaking it down to look at the different strands, that's more meaningful than the school grade."

Assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said the district administration will support the schools in their attempts to delve through their data.

"Data is not where it ends," Larson said. "Data is where it starts."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Comments

Five Hernando County educators nominated for LifeChanger of the Year Awards

Hernando County Public Schools has five educators in the running for prizes ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 in the 2017-2018 national LifeChanger of the Year awards. The program will give out 17 awards.Travis Bruns and Doug Poteet of Pine Grove Elemen...
Updated: 12 hours ago
More teacher protests and another charter school approval expected at the Hillsborough County School Board meeting

More teacher protests and another charter school approval expected at the Hillsborough County School Board meeting

TAMPA — This will seem familiar: Teachers are mobilizing to protest outside Tuesday’s Hillsborough County School Board meeting about their frozen pay rates.And this too: A vote is expected on a new charter school.Florida Connections Academy is a virt...
Published: 01/23/18
Romano: Once again, state education leaders fail this simple test

Romano: Once again, state education leaders fail this simple test

Want to annoy an education leader in Florida?Tell them they’ve turned your child’s school into an assembly line of tiny test takers. Tell them innovation and imagination and excitement are rapidly disappearing in favor of teaching to the test.And whe...
Published: 01/23/18
Pinellas to look at high school start times today

Pinellas to look at high school start times today

Pinellas County school district officials have spent weeks analyzing bus routes and brainstorming ideas to see if later high school start times could be a reality this August.Today will tell how far they have come.Clint Herbic, associate superintende...
Published: 01/23/18

Class Notes for Jan. 26

Theatre/Art/MusicCenter for the Arts at River Ridge, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. (727) 774-7382.• The center’s Learn it Live! series presents The Three Little Pigs, at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 24- 25. Pre-K – grade 4. Public show at 11 a.m. Jan. ...
Published: 01/23/18
USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Holding a piece of computer paper and a microphone, the leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg began a Friday afternoon forum by repeating the USF administration’s new mantra.He reassured the crowd before him that t...
Published: 01/19/18

Crews Lake thespians overcome the odds

SPRING HILL — It’s 8:30 a.m. — "homeroom" period in school speak — when kids in the Crews Lake Middle School drama club file into an empty chorus room to begin rehearsing under the direction of language arts teacher Kristen Sykora. There’s only 25 m...
Published: 01/19/18
Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Friday announced the first in a series of belt-tightening moves that include the elimination of three six-figure positions.Jobs now held by Wynne Tye and Larry Sykes will no longer exis...
Published: 01/19/18
Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

The Florida Department of Health has reported a sharp increase in flu activity in the last several weeks, prompting area schools to send out letters warning parents about the virus. At least two districts, however, say that flu activity in their scho...
Published: 01/19/18

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Published: 01/18/18