The second round of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores was better than the first for Gulf District Schools.
But, as Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said Monday, they couldn’t have gotten much worse.
The district scores, released last week by the Florida Department of Education, “weren’t horrible, but they weren’t great,” Norton said and presented challenges the district is already addressing with changes that began last week with administrative moves.
“We have known for some time that we had our work cut out for us,” Norton said. “We have made a lot of changes and I think you will see some quick gains in test scores this time next year.
“The first round of scores was alarming. The second round was more where we thought we would be.”
The first round scores, FCAT writing results as well as third grade reading and math, were released two weeks ago and were, in some areas, historically low.
At last week’s meeting of the Gulf County School Board, Norton called the scores “unacceptable” and a “black eye.”
The scores announced last week, grade 4-10 reading, grade 4-8 math and grades 5 and 8 science, were better, but shortfalls remain.
The district lost ground in four of seven assessment areas identified by the FDOE.
Most prominently, the percentage of district students in grades 3-5 who scored at grade level or above in math dropped by four percentages points, from 59 percent to 55 percent.
The drop continued among students in grade 6-8 on the math portion of the FCAT, with the percentage of students scoring at grade level falling by 2 percentage points.
The percentage of those same students, grades 6-8, who scored at grade proficiency in reading, also fell, in this case by 3 percentage points.
The percentage of eighth-grade students demonstrating grade-level proficiency in science also fell by 3 percentage points.
On the plus side, the percentage of students scoring on grade level rose among grades 3-5 in reading; in grades 9-10 in reading; and among fifth-graders taking the science portion of the test.
“I don’t want to use any excuses, but the state has changed the test almost every year since the FCAT’s inception and our funding has been drastically cut the past three years,” Norton said. “This gives us a chance to focus on where we need to be.
“They have changed the test so much I don’t think we’ve been able to allow our teachers to fully get their arms around the material. I think it is shame we are the front lines on this, but we are all in this together.”
Breaking down the latest round of scores by grade highlights challenges across the district.
In reading, the district fell below the state average for percentage of students scoring at grade-level proficiency or the state average score in third grade, fifth grade, sixth grade and eighth grade.
The numbers between schools varied wildly.
Among fourth-graders, for example, 76 percent (up 30 percent) of students at Wewahitchka Elementary tested at grade level while 53 percent (down 7 percent) of Port St. Joe Elementary fourth-graders did so.
Among ninth-graders, on the other hand, 46 percent of Wewahitchka High School students scored at proficiency while 68 percent of Port St. Joe High School students did so.
At all other grade levels in reading, the schools at either end of the county roughly mirrored each other.
That was not the case in math.
Among third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, the percentage of students scoring at grade level at Wewahitchka Elementary School out-paced their peers at Port St. Joe Elementary – 57-37 percent among third-graders, 80-65 percent in fourth grade and 55-44 percent among fifth-graders.
Nonetheless, the third-grade percentages, to focus on one grade, represented sharp drops for both schools, 13 percentage points in Port St. Joe and 19 percent in Wewahitchka.
Only in fourth grade did students outpace the state in math, with both elementary schools’ average score above the state average and 80 percent of Wewahitchka fourth-graders scored at grade level, up 22 percentage points.
That trend was reversed on the math portion in grades 6-8.
The percentage of students in Port St. Joe who tested at grade level in math was well ahead of students in Wewahitchka – 65-47 percent in sixth grade, 67-47 in seventh grade and 61-41 percent among eighth graders.
The district outpaced the state in every grade based largely on the performance of Port St. Joe students.
Overall, at the elementary school level, Port St. Joe students lost ground for percentage of students at grade proficiency at every grade and every subject save sixth-grade reading and math and fifth-grade reading.
Wewahitchka Elementary, in contrast, saw the same percentages go up in nine of 16 grade/subject areas.
The district was below the state in science at both tested grades.
The big concern, as voiced by Norton during last week’s School Board meeting, is what impact the scores will have when school grades are tabulated.
Port St. Joe High School has been an ‘A’ school each of the past two years and Port St. Joe Elementary has been an ‘A’ or ‘B’ school consistently over the years.
Wewahitchka Elementary has consistently been a ‘B’ school, with a ‘C’ thrown in time to time while Wewahitchka High School came very close to a ‘B’ last year.
It appears likely, given the numbers, that both elementary schools will earn no better than a ‘C’.
High school grades are released in the fall after calculations for dual enrollment, dropout rate and graduation rate are factored in.
“We will not have any failing schools and we will not have a ‘D’ school,” Norton said. “Overall, I think we are a ‘B’ district when everything is averaged out, but it may be that this year we are going to a ‘B-C’ district.”