Whatever stumbles might be expected with the implementation of a new standardized test were not evident in the grades handed out to Gulf District Schools.

Whatever stumbles might be expected with the implementation of a new standardized test were not evident in the grades handed out to Gulf District Schools.

The Florida Department of Education last week released school grades for the 2014-2015 school year and, as predicted late last year after the FDOE adopted benchmarks for the new Florida Standards Assessment test, Gulf District Schools returned to honor roll status.

Not only did two schools improve a letter grade, but Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School held on to its ‘A’ grade and the district’s grade is a ‘B’, a return to the state’s honor roll after a two-year absence.

“We are elated with these grades,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “And we also know what areas we need to target.”

The FSA replaced the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) last school year and testing got off to a rocky start when initial attempts to access online testing portals forced delays in testing statewide and in the county.

But Gulf District Schools weathered the bumps and after benchmarks were finally approved in Janauary, preliminary indications of a good year proved reality.

In addition to the ‘A’ grade at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, each of the two elementary schools, in Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka, saw their grades improve by one letter to a ‘B’.

Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High has been an ‘A’ school every year since 2010, save 2013-2014 when the school earned sufficient points to earn the top grade but was penalized due to a slight drop in the four-year graduation rate.

The district unsuccessfully appealed that penalty.

Port St. Joe Elementary has been an ‘A’ school twice in the past six years, Norton noted.

“It is hoped that current improvements in the school grade and continued dedication to academic excellence will allow the school to maintain momentum,” Norton said.

Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School repeated its mark from the prior year, again just missing, by a mere few points, a ‘B’ grade and settling for a ‘C’.

The individual school grades mean the district returns to honor roll status and, with a clean financial audit later this year, would also return to the ranks of those select districts considered “high-performing.”

The district was an honor roll district seven-straight years before the streak was snapped two years ago.

In a typical year, there are fewer than two dozen districts designated “high-performing.”

In part, the district, as with many across the state, benefited from the 2014-2015 school year being the first for FSA administration; such factors such as learning gains by low-performing students were not part of the equation as it was a baseline year.

That specific area had been a bugaboo for Gulf District Schools the past several years after changes were made to the calculations in the FCAT, the predecessor of the FSA.

Learning gains become a factor again with this school year’s administration of the test this spring.

The school grades will also mean dollars to the district.

Each school that improves a letter grade or earns an ‘A’ are entitled to school-recognition dollars based on enrollment.

In the past, school-based advisory councils have decided how those dollars are spent.

In all, considering all the technical problems and controversy surrounding the FSA, Norton said the district had much to be proud of.

“This is all due to the hard work of our faculty and staff and the work they do in educating our students,” Norton said. “The improvements are a source of pride and direct result of the teamwork and dedication of staff and students.”