EAST COUNTY — Data released last week shows East County elementary and middle schools stand mostly as an exception to falling school grades statewide, but Manatee County School District officials worry about how changing testing standards are impacting performance.
Three East County elementary schools and two middle schools received “A” grades, like they did last year. Those schools are McNeal, Willis and Gene Witt elementary schools and Haile and Nolan middle schools.
Four schools dropped one grade: Braden River, Freedom and B.D. Gullett elementary schools and Braden River Middle School. Each of those schools saw its grade fall from an “A” to a “B.”
Imagine School at Lakewood Ranch saw its grade, a “C,” unchanged from last year.
“I’m very proud of the performance of these (East County) schools,” said Dr. Diana Greene, Manatee School District deputy superintendent for instruction. “I’m still frustrated for educators having to deal with so much change. At some point, we have to stabilize things.”
Anticipating declining grades due to stricter test standards that began this year as the new Common Core state standards take effect, the state adopted last-minute changes to its school-grading formula. Schools could not drop more than one letter grade compared to last year.
Two East County schools — Bashaw and Tara elementary schools — were protected by the new measure. Both schools saw their grades drop from a “B” to a “C” this year. FCAT data shows the schools received grade-drop protection.
Statewide, the number of “A” schools dropped from 48% to 29%, while the number of “F” schools increased from 2% to 4%.
Overall, Manatee County had seven more “F” schools this year, while “A” schools dropped by eight.
This year, the state raised the passing FCAT writing score from a 3.0 to a 3.5.
The 2014-15 school year will bring full Common Core implementation for all kindergartners through 12th-graders, including a new assessment, which will replace the FCAT.
It has been expected the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, assessment will replace the FCAT, but Greene says that is now in doubt. She says changing testing standards prevents students from knowing what’s expected of them.
“We’re getting into a precarious situation where we’re not comfortable,” Greene said. “We need standards that are consistent and reliable. Our schools’ perceptions are based on the grades the state gives us.”
Still, East County schools have held strong against changes. Greene expects that trend to continue, and she points to the area’s demographics, socio-economic status and high internal standards as reasons why.
Superintendent Rick Mills wants the successful schools to share strategies with others in the district, Greene said.
The district’s new executive director of middle schools, Cynthia Saunders, already has started pushing collaboration.
“In the past, there was a culture here of everyone being on an island and doing their own thing,” Greene said. “There has to be more sharing of what is happening between schools.”
In a July 16 meeting with other middle-school principals, Janet Kerley, the principal of Haile Middle School, shared a best practice in writing.
At Haile, known for producing consistently strong writers, sixth-graders compare and contrast articles communicating opposing viewpoints.
The new state test in 2014-15, whatever it’s called, will infuse writing throughout the exam.
Students must analyze articles, requiring higher-level thinking — a skill not needed in the FCAT’s prompt-based writing section.
Soon, Nolan Middle School will share a best practice, as well, Saunders said.
On Sept. 1, Nolan will introduce an e-textbook, accessible with an iPad, piloted with Discovery Learning.
The Department of Education expects Florida schools to adopt digital textbooks by the 2015-16 school year.
Last school year, Nolan Middle School launched its “bring your own device” program; it allows students to view educational material on their iPhones and other devices during class.
Greene hopes the sharing can keep pace with change from the outside.
“I have no problem with accountability, but I can only reach expectations when I know what’s expected of me,” she said.
Contact Josh Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to see a breakdown of FCAT scores by school.
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