Education officials across Florida are digging into the details of their school and district grades for the 2017-18 school year to see where they can make improvements when classes resume this fall.
The Florida Department of Education released the grades on June 27.
Florida now has more than 1,000 “A” schools (1,027 schools) up from 987 in 2017 and 763 in 2016. The percentage of schools earning an "A" increased to 32 percent, up from 30 percent in 2016-17.
The percentage of schools earning an "A" or “B” grade increased to 58 percent compared to 56 percent last year.
Overall, local school districts performed fairly well.
For the Okaloosa County School District, it was another banner year academically. Out of 36 schools, 21 received a letter grade of A. There were 12 B’s, just three C’s, no D’s or F’s.
Okaloosa earned 719 total points, netting the district an A for the 5th year in a row and the eighth time in the past nine years (received a B in ’13).
Okaloosa ranked seventh of the state’s 67 counties, behind St. Johns (758), Lafayette (754), Gilchrist (741), Sarasota (734), Wakulla (729), and Collier (726).
Santa Rosa County earned 693 points, which was also good for a District grade of A, also their eighth in nine years.
“We knew as a district, we had kind of held our own, when we looked at the district picture, so we weren’t surprised to see that we made the A,” said Bill Emerson, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Santa Rosa, noting that the district scores came within a point or two of last year’s total.
Of Santa Rosa’s 26 total schools, nine received A’s. There were 11 ‘B’s’, and six C’s. That’s a little bit of a dip from last year, with two fewer A’s and three fewer B’s.
“Some of those schools that dropped just were right on the edge of making the next letter grade, you know we’re talking about a point or two, a percentage point or two to retain the A, for example, or to retain the B,” Emerson said. “We’re always disappointed when we have a decline, but experience has taught us that no matter how hard we work at this, we’re going to have ups and downs every year.”
On the upside, Emerson says Santa Rosa students netted some of their biggest gains in science.
“Our fifth grade students had a five-point increase in their proficiency level. Our 8th grade students had a four-point increase in their proficiency in Science,” said Emerson. “We were really happy to see that.”
Emerson also pointed out that Santa Rosa had the top eighth grade math scores in the state, a nine-point increase.
“Science for us was certainly, I think probably our strongest area,” said Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “Every grade that was tested in the area of science saw good increases. Math would have been a close second.”
Thomas says the district’s weakest performance was in Elementary English Language Arts.
“That’s always the toughest area to see progress because it’s all about language and vocabulary; and it’s a little more challenging to help students make progress there than it would be math.”
In English Language Arts, Escambia students posted a districtwide score of 48 in both achievement and in learning gains, and a score of 40 in E-L-A gains among the lowest 25 percent.
One of the big problems in Escambia is the number of children who are not ready when they start kindergarten.
“The measurement last year was 46% of our students start school ready; that means 54 percent start school more than a year behind,” Thomas said.
“And, where they’re most behind is in that language vocabulary area, which is going to affect reading; and, I still think we’re seeing signs of that in grades 3, 4, and 5. So those will continue to be our areas of biggest emphasis is to continue to push language, vocabulary and reading development.”
Essential to this effort is the district’s partnership with the Early Learning Coalition and Achieve Escambia. Thomas believes once better gains are achieved at the earliest levels, overall student performance in the district should improve.
For the past year, the Escambia superintendent was pleased to have a district grade was a B, which is up from a C the past two years.
Nine schools received a letter grade of A. There were eight B’s, and 18 C’s. While the district had no “F” schools, it recorded 14 D’s, primarily in areas where tough socio-economic hardships are difficult to overcome.
“If you really look at those schools, their zip code is probably all the same,” Thomas said, referencing the corridor of Escambia County that includes Brownsville and Warrington. “When you move out of that area, you don’t have as many problems with school grades; they’re making A’s and B’s as you would expect.”
With school grades in, a little more than six weeks before the mid-August start of the 2018-19 school year, Thomas says district officials will take some time to dig deep into the details.
“You take the data, you drill it down to a much finer level than just school grade,” said Sup. Thomas. “You really look at each area tested, drill that all the way down to each individual student, then make plans at the schools for the next year for each students are not making progress and then how do we develop interventions that will help those students.”
The same methodology is underway in Santa Rosa County.
“Our focus now would be to identify those students individually now, who didn’t make learning gains and formulate some type of a plan to give it another good try next year and move them up the scale,” said Santa Rosa Asst. Sup. Emerson.
Like Escambia, Santa Rosa plans to place an emphasis on English Language Arts, looking to higher performing districts for “best practices,” from small group sessions to computer software, to improve reading.
Emerson says it’s an acknowledgement that reading is the key to learning across the board, “The reading provides the access to learning in those other areas. If you don’t have the reading; you can’t access the other material.”
Local districts will put their plans into action when the school year officially starts on Monday, August 13.