Scores Give Area Much to Consider; MIXED NUMBERS Most Schools Are Up to Par and Better, but Some Have More to Lose

By Palka, Mary Kelli; Sanders, Topher | The Florida Times Union, June 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

Scores Give Area Much to Consider; MIXED NUMBERS Most Schools Are Up to Par and Better, but Some Have More to Lose


Palka, Mary Kelli, Sanders, Topher, The Florida Times Union


Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA and TOPHER SANDERS

Northeast Florida elementary school students stumbled on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, following a state trend, according to scores released Tuesday.

It wasn't clear what caused the drop in the percentage of students reading at or above grade level at the elementary level.

Statewide, students at most other grade levels showed slight increases of a percentage point or two. Fourth- and fifth-graders dropped two points each. Third grade was up one point.

Duval County schools Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said the elementary reading scores could be a testing anomaly but either way it was an area of concern.

"We're kind of flat and so we need to make some significant progress there," Pratt-Dannals said. "We'll be redoubling our efforts; looking at our curriculum, our instruction and our professional development."

State Chancellor Frances Haithcock told The Times-Union the test was not more or less difficult than in previous years, and that it was normal to see some slight variations in scores.

Pratt-Dannals said overall the district's scores were an optimistic sign of improvement, but that the gains in individual student scores since last year will tell the full picture. Tuesday's results compare how this year's fourth-graders did compared with last year's fourth-graders and so on.

FAITH IN THE NUMBERS

The state released third-grade reading scores several weeks ago. On Tuesday, the state released fourth through 10th grade math and reading; fifth, eighth and 11th grade science scores; and fourth, eighth and 10th grade writing scores.

Overall, high schools and middle school saw improvements across the board - in Northeast Florida and statewide.

But Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith said more work was needed in the earlier grade levels.

"Reasons for this will vary locally but I am confident that through careful analysis of the data and a redoubling of our efforts at both the state and district level, we will be able to move past this plateau and spark new levels of success in our early grades and beyond," Smith said in a written statement.

There were exceptions to the elementary decreases.

Englewood and John Stockton elementaries in Duval, Macclenny Elementary in Baker and The Children's Reading Center in Putnam showed gains at every grade level in every subject.

Lacy Healy, Stockton's second-year principal, said the school's scores were a result of hard work by her staff.

"I think it's just the combination of a whole lot of effort," she said, "from working with the kids in extended day in the afternoon to increasing the number of books that children are reading."

Healy said to get her students to read more books she provided incentives like ice cream sandwiches, and she said she would dye her hair University of Florida's colors when her students met their book goals. They did, and she did.

Science and writing scores were up across the board in Northeast Florida and the state.

But both tests saw large changes this year.

Science went from a mix of multiple-choice, open-ended questions, short answers and essays to mostly multiple-choice and open-ended questions.

And for writing, through last year the state considered a 3.5 out of 6 possible points "minimally acceptable." This year, a 3 was considered at grade level.

FCAT scores came in more than a month late. Usually, they'd be available before the end of the school year, and often go home with student report cards.

The state signed a four-year, $254 million contract with a Minnesota company, NCS Pearson, to provide the scores. The company could have to pay as much as $25 million in fines for being late, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. …

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