Deciphering FCAT highs, lows
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Inverness Primary School principal Terry Charles gathered her staff last week to share the good news about the school's scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and her teachers bubbled over with emotion.
The school had gains in every subject at every grade tested and topped the district's scores in five of seven categories, earning second place honors in the other two.
"It was great. It was really wonderful," Charles said. "I'm very happy and I'm not concerned about (the school's) grade because our children individually have shown improvement."
But for every school that celebrated FCAT gains there were others left frustrated and disappointed because the results didn't reflect a year of hard work.
The state Department of Education released the first wave of scores on Wednesday, sending administrators scrambling to cull meaningful details from the stacks of numbers. By the end of the week, some principals were talking about what changes the data may mean for their lesson plans while others were awaiting information such as school grades, which are expected in June.
Individual student scores are expected by Friday, the last day of school. Each school will decide how to give that information to parents.
"What we're looking for is continuous improvement," said superintendent David Hickey. "We're looking at (higher achievement levels) and we're up in that regards. I think that's great, and it shows the hard work of our staff."
Hickey, however, was disappointed at the public's tendency to look only at the school grades. "The average person is going to see an A or a B or an F and that's sad," Hickey said. "I've never been happy with them attaching an A, B, C, D, F and then attaching money to it."
A sampling of schools around the county showed that educators already are using the scores to see where curriculum improvements are needed for the coming year.
At Citrus High School, where scores dropped in ninth-grade reading and math and in 10th-grade math, principal Mike Mullen said there was some disappointment. "The ninth-grade scores are the most alarming to us," he said.
Still, he said he puts the scores in perspective. "It's good data, and we're going to use it along with other data as well," he said. "It's a snapshot, not an intensive evaluation of what students have done all year."
One way the school is responding is by examining ways for ninth-graders to take math and English for a longer period of time, which would mean those students who are struggling would get fewer electives and more of the basic classes.
Mullen said ninth-graders are more of a challenge because they take the test again next year, whereas 10th-graders know they have to pass the test to graduate and are more focused.
This year, one in four high school sophomores in Citrus will have to take the reading test again and pass to earn a diploma. In Citrus, 71 percent of sophomores passed the reading part of the test, and 82 percent passed math. That compares to state numbers of 58 percent passing reading and 72 percent passing math.
At Lecanto High School, which showed increased scores in ninth-grade math and both math and reading at 10th grade, principal Kelly Tyler said his focus was also going to be on ninth-graders.
"We're happy with our 10th-grade scores," said Tyler, who had calculated that 51 percent of his sophomores were reading at the higher achievement levels. "It's certainly not where we want to be, but it's the first time that the reading scores have been that high."
Math scores were also higher in 10th grade than the school had hoped with 76 percent of the students in the higher levels. That compares with just 31 percent of the ninth-graders in reading and 59 percent in math.
Lecanto will provide underachieving students with more intensive math and English courses next year. The high schools are also working on a yearlong geography program.
At Lecanto Middle School, new principal James Kusmaul and curriculum specialist Michelle Tripp were concerned about the declines. Scores dropped off in seventh grade math and in reading and math at the eighth grade.
Kusmaul said there had not been much time to analyze the information, but he wants the school to set up an internal network where everyone works together on the trouble spots.
Gina Hodges, principal at Crystal River Middle School, has begun to crunch the scores, and she wasn't happy.
While the percentage of sixth-graders scoring in the higher levels for reading rose, seventh-graders dropped and eighth-graders went up only slightly. The math results weren't much different with sixth grade going up, seventh-graders slipping and eighth-graders inching forward. Writing scores for eighth-graders improved slightly.
Hodges also looked at last year's sixth-graders compared to this year's seventh grade -- a much more significant figure since that is how the state is this year looking at learning gains for the purpose of assigning school grades.
Those numbers gave Hodges a less-than-positive message, with reading dropping from 54 percent at sixth grade last year to 52 percent at seventh grade this year.
Hodges said the school already knew reading was an issue and was considering improvements such as adding a reading class every day along with the language arts curriculum.
At Inverness Primary School, Charles had done the same kinds of complex calculations and was pleased to see increases in each area in the numbers of students hitting the higher levels of achievement. The school had the highest writing scores in the district with the average score of 4.1 on a scale of 0 to 6. Only 5 percent of the students at the school did not hit the higher achievement levels.
"Is that phenomenal or what?" Charles said. "It just goes to show that it's worth the effort."
Crystal River Primary School principal Sandra Kennedy was thrilled to see her school's ranking in the county improve. "We're ecstatic at the progress that we've made," she said. "No one's been hogging the bottom like we have . . . It was nice to move up."
Kennedy credited hard work by staff and students alike, and she vowed that the improvement would continue.
Lane Vick, principal at Citrus Springs Elementary School, said she is anxious to see more information on the FCAT scores, especially how well her school served the lowest 25 percent of achievers. The state is also very interested in that number and will use it in calculating school grades in the coming weeks.
She was happy to see some reading gains at her school and noted "we have emphasized reading for the year and were hoping it would pay off. And it did."
One plan being considered at Citrus Springs is to pull students out of class to work on the specific skills before returning to their regular setting. Vick acknowledged such planning is often logistically difficult.
A jump in writing scores was good news to Lecanto Primary School. "We've had a lot of inservice for the teachers, and we've tried to standardize from grade to grade . . . so there will be a standardized way of thinking without stifling the children's creativity," said principal Steve Guyler.
Lecanto Primary was also below the district on fourth- and fifth-grade mean reading scores, but Guyler said he was hopeful that some plans in the works will help with that, including the adoption of reading textbooks, which will be standardized across the district next year.
As much as the other schools might dread the coming of school grades next month, that feeling may be deeper at Homosassa Elementary School, which is the only school in the district that received an A last year.
That designation is not likely to stick, as the school's scores dropped in five of seven areas. "We're disappointed in our math scores," said assistant principal Regina Allegretta. "We still have a lot of work to do."
Still, she said there was no reason to be disappointed.
"Our kids are learning. We have the in-house data that proves that," she said. "If the kids are learning something every day, and we're taking them from point A to point B to point C, then you've accomplished what you set out to do. They're learning what they need to be successful."
-- Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 564-3621.
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