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FPC Improves from D to B, Matanzas High School Maintains a B, Heritage is an F

| December 7, 2010

Helmets off to the Pirates, who maintain their standing--and to FPC's Bulldogs, who improved vastly. (© FlaglerLive)

In August, the final school-wide grades came in for all but Flagler County’s high schools. (Four schools had A’s, three had B’s, one had a C.).

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Education released school-wide grades for all high schools. Flagler Palm Coast High School improved from a D to a B. Matanzas High School maintained the B it had last year. And long-troubled Heritage Academy, in the first year that it was graded as a high school, got an F. The district as a whole scored an A for the third year in a row. However, last year’s A was not–and still isn’t–confirmed. It was pending the latest results released on Tuesday.

Flagler School Superintendent Janet Valentine said that despite Heritage’s F, the results are not likely to change the district grade. “We do not believe it will because the majority of the information was already calculated,” Valentine said.

“All in all we’re really pleased with the B’s and it really shows what our teachers and our support staff—and our students—have been doing over the last year,” Valentine said. FPC’s B is an especially strong boost for first-year Principal Jacob Oliva, who assumed leadership of the school late last year (after the FCA exams had been administered). FPC’s last (and only) A dates back to 2008, the same year Matanzas got its only A since the state began applying its controversial and debatable high-stakes system of slapping grades on schools and districts based on FCAT scores, both to reward and shame them.

The point system is based on a combination of factors that include graduation rates, measurable improvements and traditional standardized reading and math scores.

Both Matanzas and FPC had enough points to be A schools this year. They had to have at least 1050 points. Matanzas had 1,165, FPC had 1,078. Both were penalized an entire letter grade, however, because their lowest-performing 25 percent of students did not make improvements enough to match state requirements.

The more serious issue is Heritage Academy, the charter school formerly known as Cornerstone Academy (and formerly set up as an elementary, middle and high school until a name change and a consolidation).

The most serious problem at Heritage was that instruction at the school was not aligned with state standards. A month ago, the state sent three specialists from its accountability office who teamed up with Flagler school district curriculum specialists and Jim Devine, the coordinator for assessment and accountability, to develop a plan that would put Heritage in line with state expectations. District administration is continuing to do regular reviews of lesson plans and progress monitoring, essentially having Heritage on a form of probation (although it’s not officially termed that: even though charter schools are publicly funded, they bristle at the suggestion that they are under more than nominal public controls).

When Florida established its high-stakes grading system based on FCAT scores, the long-term implication was that lower performing schools would be penalized with F’s, and students whose schools would have two F’s in a row would be eligible for private school vouchers at public expense. The push toward charter schools, heavily favored by the Florida Legislature and former Gov. Jeb Bush, was part of the same notion that competition would spur public schools to perform better, even though public schools were essentially being penalized by having their resources diluted and shifted to charter or private schools, while the majority of charter schools have failed to match traditional public school standards.

Charter students are not locked into their choice. “Those students of course have a choice and those students can come back into the traditional schools at any point that they choose,” Valentine said.

Below is the 10-year history of school-wide grades in Flagler County, including those awarded charter schools.

Flagler County School Grades, 2001-2016

Bunnell ElementaryCCAAABBAABBAB (C)*ABCC
Belle Terre ElementaryAAAAAAAAAABB
Rymfire ElementaryBABCAAB (c)*ABBB
Phoenix AcademyCCClosed
Palm Harbor****FN.A.ABFD
Indian Trails MiddleAAAAAAAAAABB
Grades are based on standardized tests and other factors, including student improvement, end-of-year exams, AP and IB, dual enrollment, and graduation rates.
(*) In 2013, the state Board of Education agreed to pad grades in such a way as to prevent them from falling by more than one letter grade. More than 20 percent of schools benefited from the padding, including Rymfire and Bunnell elementaries in Flagler, whose grades would have been a C if the actual standards were applied.

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