With FCAT Writing Scores in, Schools Check Performance; Principals Look at What Worked, and What Didn't, to Help Students Improve Their Scores

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Eula Davis lives for the moments when she enters a classroom and children hold up their journals and shout, "Let me share what I wrote today!"

Davis, a retired teacher who is now at tutor at R.V. Daniels Elementary School, helps students who struggle with reading, writing and other skills. Her one-on-one and small group sessions are one reason the Jacksonville school had the biggest improvement among all Duval County schools on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Davis has helped the Montessori school improve to a 77 percent passing rate. That's up from 34 percent last year, said Principal Nan Brooks-Hoyle.

"Finding the right tutor was the key -- someone who had expertise in the areas we needed," she said.

Now that schools know their FCAT writing scores, which were released Wednesday, principals can find out what worked and what failed in the classroom.

Fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students took the standardized test, which is graded on a scale of 1 to 6. A passing score is 3.5 or higher.

The top performers in Duval County were Stanton College Preparatory School and Jacksonville Beach Elementary, where 99 percent of students passed. Chets Creek Elementary, LaVilla School of the Arts, James Weldon Johnson Middle, Paxon High and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts all had at least 95 percent of their students receive passing grades.

On the other end, only 38 percent of Oceanway Elementary School students and 37 percent at Mattie V. Rutherford Alternative School passed the FCAT. Two Jacksonville charter schools that opened this year, School of Integrated Academics and Technology, and Sojourner Truth High, also struggled. No more than 36 percent of students passed at either school.

Still, Integrated Academics and Technology Principal Maureen Mikels said she's pleased with the 32 percent of students who passed. Most of the students are at least two grade levels behind and have grade point averages between 0.5 to 1.3. Some of the school's freshmen are 18 years old.

"That's pretty awesome for kids who haven't been able to pass in the past," she said. "I've had kids who have taken it seven, eight times and haven't passed, " she said. The school serves students who struggled in traditional schools, and students can enter or leave the school at any time during the year.

In St. Johns County, St. Augustine's Crookshank Elementary School notched one of the region's most dramatic increases.

At the start of the year, teachers collaborated with a literacy coach to find the best way to improve writing scores. Students wrote for an hour every day and studied writing that had earned perfect scores on the FCAT.

That effort paid off.

The school's average rose from 2.7 to 3.4. In previous years, the school of about 500 students posted some of the lower scores in St. Johns County, but this year's results are "proof that students can learn," Principal Jim Roberts said.

The rest of the county's scores topped the state average in nearly every aspect of writing and at every grade level. …