At first blush, this year’s scores from the spring’s Florida Standards Assessment testing had Gulf District Schools’ officials pondering whether to ask the state for a mulligan.
The release last week of school grades, however, provided a bit rosier portrait.
The four district schools finished at “C” or better when school and district grades were released by the Florida Department of Education, the district earning a “C” grade.
The lone school to not receive a “C” was Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, which was graded as a “B.”
“I wasn’t surprised by that grade at all,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “They had the least turnover, teachers and students, of any school in the district (from Hurricane Michael).
“They’ve been consistently improving their scores over the past three or four years.”
Incredibly, despite much more significant turnover after Hurricane Michael, Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School students scored within one point of a “B.”
In fact, the two high schools were separated by less than a point, but the state’s rounding to whole numbers sent them to different grades.
Norton said the district will not petition the state for reconsideration of the PSJHS grade.
But, given the district ended up with a “C” grade and no “D” or “F” schools, Norton said he had decided against petitioning the DOE for a waiver on this year’s test scores.
Such a waiver is possible and the district was going to piggy-back on a similar request with Bay County.
“Given the grades, we will not be going after a waiver,” Norton said. “We will take our lumps from Hurricane Michael and move on.”
The grades are overwhelmingly based on FSA scores at the elementary level; at the high school level other factors such as dual-enrollment, graduation and drop-off rates come into play.
High schools seek a maximum of 1,100 points; elementary schools 700 points.
An overview of each school:
Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School
Students at PSJHS earned 53.3 percent of the possible points; “B” grades begin at 54 percent, so, as Lori Price, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction noted, the school was oh-so close to a “B.”
Math achievement at grade level or above and math learning gains, as well as Civics were strong areas; on the Biology test among eighth-graders not so much.
Ninth-grade English Language Arts and eighth-grade math scores were strong as were geometry scores, where 78 percent of students were at or above grade level.
Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School
Students earned 53.81 percent of possible points, which was rounded off to 54 percent, giving the school the district’s sole “B” grade.
Middle school acceleration in math was strong, Civics scored were the shining star with 73 percent scoring at grade level or above and students had a good showing in Biology.
Port St. Joe Elementary School
Students earned 46 percent of the 700 possible points.
Third-graders were strong in math and English Language Arts and fifth-grade science scores were up.
Other strong areas were sixth-grade English Language Arts and fourth-grade math.
Wewahitchka Elementary School
Students earned 43.7 percent of the possible points.
Sixth-grade math continued to be consistently strong and other strong areas were sixth-grade English Language Arts and fourth-grade math.
Price noted that WES has seen extraordinary turnovers in faculty the past two years, replacing nearly a quarter of teachers each year.
At the beginning of the school year, Price noted, the district struggled to find highly-qualified teachers.
While vacancies exist for the coming school year, there are more applicants, Price said.
Price said the most pressing need for the district is to move the lowest scoring students in English and math forward.
Hurricane Michael, she added, brought a change in the emotional climate at the schools.
“At the time, students and staff alike experienced a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that is difficult to articulate,” Price said. “But that is gradually being replaced with determination, perhaps even defiance.
“We are not a ‘C’ district. We hit a speed bump, not a road block. We are moving forward.”
The hurricane also provided the initial rationalization for seeking a waiver of FSA scores, Norton said.
“I can’t say I am pleased with the scores or grades, but I am pleased that we got knocked on our fannies and still were a ‘C’ district,” Norton said. “We will get back into the grind and back to work.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Norton added, “We should be back on the road to being a ‘B’ district.”