Gulf District Schools will seek a waiver from the Florida Department of Education for this year’s standardized test scores.
Student scores on the Florida Standards Assessment were released last week and any momentum the district had gained in the prior two or three years quickly disappeared.
“We were very optimistic prior to October 10 that we had made progress in the areas we needed to make gains,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “I even publicly predicted we would make the jump from a B district to an A district.
“That all went out the window October 10. And those changes are resonating.”
School grades have not been issued by the DOE: Norton said the district did not have an F school but could not say for a certainty the district did not have a school that will be graded lower than a C.
To say the test scores, on which elementary school grades are overwhelmingly based and high school grades are partially based were a mixed bag would be tarrying in the obvious.
And the problems, Norton said, might be more prevalent in Wewahitchka, but hardly confined to the north end.
Just a sampling of scores highlights the district’s overall results.
Take English Language Arts, given to students in grades 3-10.
Among ninth-graders, the district was above the state average score, 345-343, and above the state average (56 percent to 55 percent) in students who scored at grade level or above.
Move down one grade, though, and among eighth-graders, the district trailed the state average score, 332 versus 338, and was well behind the state average (49 percent compared to 56 percent) in the number of students scoring on grade level.
Among 10-graders and sixth-graders the district was again slightly behind state averages in both point totals and the percentage of students scoring at grade level.
Math scores, a test also given to students in grades 3-10, followed a similar roller coaster trend.
In eighth-grade district students performed ahead of the state median point total, 338-333, and had a higher percentage than the state average (54 percent to 46 percent) of students scoring at grade level.
Move to seventh grade, however, and the results are dramatically different.
The district was well behind the state median for points, 309-330, and even further behind in the percentage of students (16 percent versus 54 percent) scoring at grade level.
Further, district students performed well behind state averages in two end-of-course exams taken by high schoolers.
Norton said a number of factors played into the scores and the request from the district to the state to waive this year’s results.
The storm, he noted, displaced more than 80 Mexico Beach students and cost the district about 15 percent of student enrollment.
While that loss was mitigated somewhat by an influx of 10-12 percent from other school districts impacted by Hurricane Michael, especially Bay County, the revolving students altered teaching dynamics.
“We picked up a lot of what Bay County lost,” Norton said, adding that many of those students were on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.
“Those students also were not students we started with, who we worked with hard for two or three years to take the FSA.”
Another contributor was the relatively quick opening of schools following the storm, the state urging a short down time to foster a return to normalcy.
“We were not pleased, but it was the right thing to do,” Norton said. “But it gave the impression we had returned to normal, which we had not.”
Schools were on half-days initially for a couple of weeks, the winter break arrived before anything resembling normal had returned and by Spring Break, Norton said, too many students had mentally checked out.
“I can live with the fact we are only 5 points or so down across the board,” Norton said. “But they are aware in Tallahassee of what we were up against.
“So we are going to seek a waiver for this year’s scores.”