As in much of the state, reading scores for Flagler County’s third graders fell again this year, as they did last year, erasing pre-pandemic gains. Still, the scores were strong enough to have Flagler County tied with four other counties for 12th out of 67 counties, if with some caveats.
The percentage of Flagler County 3rd graders achieving a reading level of 3 (out of 5) or above–that is, reading at a satisfactory level–fell to 58 percent, the lowest level in at least seven years of comparable testing results, and down from last year’s 59 percent. Scores had peaked at 69 percent in 2017 and 68 percent in 2019, the year before the pandemic, which has affected school districts across the country.
There was no standardized testing in 2020. Schools were in full session in Flagler County all year in the 2021-22 school year, with no remote option (except for students enrolled through virtual school), but the earlier part of the year was disrupted by a surge in covid cases and the district’s faculty has been hampered by teacher retirements and a shortage of substitutes.
The state average fell to 53 percent of students at a satisfactory level of 3, down from 54 percent the year before and 58 percent before the pandemic. Most counties’ students lost ground, understanding that comparisons from year to year are fundamentally unfair in one regard: the test results naturally do not compare the same students, but different cohorts entirely. Still, in the aggregate, the reflect the strength (or weaknesses) of a system as a whole.
Achievement levels range from 1 (inadequate) and 2 (below satisfactory) to satisfactory (3), a level at which a student may need additional help in the next grade, to proficient (4) to mastery (5). Promotion to 4th grade normally requires a level 2 or better. But in 2021, the Department of Education issued an order permitting a series of waivers for public school students regarding exams, graduations and promotions. One of those waivers allowed the promotion of third graders who were not necessarily at level 2, but could be shown to have performed well enough for promotion through “other means reasonably calculated.” Those means were not defined.
Put another way: proficiency is attained only with a level 4 or better. At that level, just 23 percent of Flagler County’s third graders (211 out of 917 tested) were proficient, which dims the county’s achievement (or ranking) at least somewhat, since 77 percent of students in this year’s third-grade class will need at least some extra help next year in reading. Statewide, just 25 percent of students are proficient or better, a proportion that’s fluctuated from 25 to 30 percent over the past seven years.
Nevertheless, the state places its defining line at level 3 since placing it at 4 would ensure grim reports year after year.
The 160 students who tested at Old Kings Elementary averaged the highest scores, with 69 percent scoring a 3 and better, 9 percent scoring 5 and 20 percent scoring below 3.
The 19 students tested at iFlagler, the virtual option, tested higher, as virtual-school students tend to across the state, with 74 percent scoring at a level 3 or better, beating the state average of 64 percent for virtual school students.
Bunnell Elementary, which tested 176 students, had the lowest combined scores, with just 49 percent scoring 3 or better, 3 percent scoring 5, and 29 percent scoring below 3.
Rymfire’s 136 third graders and Wadsworth’s 113 both had 53 percent scoring at a 3 or better. Belle Terre Elementary’s 209 third graders had 62 percent at a 3 or better, and Imagine School at Town center, the charter school, had 59 percent of its 104 third graders score a 3 or better. Statewide, charter schools outperformed traditional schools by seven points in 2022, and have generally outperformed them by six to nine points over the past seven years of testing in the proportion of students at 3 or better.
Only nine counties managed to have between 60 and 69 percent of their students at a level 3 or better–Baker, Clay, Dixie, Nassau, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole, Sumter and Walton–and only one broke the 70 percent barrier: St. Johns County, generally the premier education organization in the state, with 76 percent of its students clearing the hurdle, down two points from last year. At the lower end, just 19 percent of Jefferson County’s students scored a 3, and 27 percent of Gadsden’s.