Gulf District Schools generally scored at or above state averages on this year’s performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).
The district has long prided itself on a loftier yardstick.
This year the district can again point to achieving as well or better than students across the state, however the scores for students grades 3-10 released last week by the Florida Department of Education highlight work to be done.
“We were above the state average in a lot of categories and that is always a bonus,” said Melissa Ramsey, district supervisor for curriculum and assessment. “But they also show us there are areas where we need to address.
“That is the flip side of the coin; the areas where we have concerns.”
One of those would be fifth-graders, or the soon-to-be sixth-grade class.
The most glaring area where the district did not meet the state average for students scoring 3 or better (on a scale of 1-5) was across the board among fifth-graders, reading, math and science, which is administered only among fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders.
The state average was five to nine percentage points higher than the district average in each category.
The entire deficit to state averages came out of Wewahitchka Elementary School.
The percentage of students scoring 3 or better – 3 is consider at grade level – fell short of the state average in those three subjects by 15-20 percentage points.
The district, Ramsey said, would also likely come up short in bonus points for learning gains among the lowest performing quartile of students, another area where the district could consistently count on significant points.
The point from the FCAT scores – this was the second year of what is known as FCAT 2.0 which is moving the state toward Common Core Standards used nationwide – and from bonuses for learning gains in specific student demographics is how the state establishes school and district grades.
At this juncture the district has all information pertinent to elementary school grades.
High school grades are determined by FCAT scores (50 percent) and components such as enrollment and success in dual-enrolled college-level courses, graduation and drop-out rates. Those latter components will not be available until fall.
The district also has room for appeal.
The state provides a window through the next two weeks to argue any potential discrepancies to the FDOE. Ramsey said she and school administrators had already spotted several areas of appeal.
On the positive, the district had a higher percentage of students performing at grade level or above than students statewide in all other categories and grades save the writing scores among high school sophomores – a 3.0 compared to the state average of 3.5 on a scale of 1-6 – and reading and writing in fourth grade.
Among district fourth-graders the mean writing score was 3.2 compared to 3.4 for the state.
The percentage of fourth-graders scoring 3 or above in the district was 54 percent compared to 60 percent statewide.
In the EOC, or End of Course exams, administered now in high school in four core subjects but which will replace the FCAT in a few years, the district also landed below the state average for the percentage of students in the bottom one-third of scores in U.S. History.
The History EOC was administered for the first time this year.
Broken down by individual schools, the FCAT scores show a stark contrast in the two community elementary schools in the district.
At Port St. Joe Elementary School, the percentage of students scoring 3 or above in applicable subjects and every grade was above the state average, save for fourth-grade writing scores.
At Port St. Joe High School the exact same was true, with 10th-grade writing the only area were the percentage students scoring at grade proficiency did not reach the state standard.
Wewahitchka Elementary scores told a different story.
As noted several weeks ago by Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Sara Joe Wooten, third-graders at Wewahitchka Elementary “knocked it out of the park” on both math and reading, an impressive 76 percent of third-graders scoring 3 or above, 18 percentage points above the state average; the difference was nine percentage points in reading.
And in math, 64 percent of sixth-graders and 64 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above grade level, both numbers ahead of the state average.
“We did strengthen some of our deficiencies, especially in math and particularly in Wewahitchka,” Ramsey said. “That is really a positive. I applaud them for that.”
Wewahitchka Elementary sixth-graders also were above the state average in reading, with 68 percent reading at or above grade level compared to 59 percent statewide.
However, at no other grade level or subject did the percentage of Wewahitchka students, through high school sophomores, scoring at grade level or above reach the state average.
As the district has emphasized reading, the percentage of fourth-graders and fifth-graders scoring 3 or above, for example, was behind the state by double-digits, 20 percentage points among fifth-graders.
Comparing classes as they advanced based on FCAT scores also highlighted troubling scores, Ramsey noted.
The percentage of students scoring at grade level in math and reading from grade to grade fell almost uniformly at both elementary schools, save for reading scores in Port St. Joe and math in Wewahitchka.
The trend was similar at the high schools, with Wewahitchka students showing improvement in reaching grade level in math; Port St. Joe students in reading.