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Maintaining Low A, Flagler School District Is 29th in New Florida Ranking; St. Johns Is 1st

| January 23, 2012

The Flagler school district is clinging to its A. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: Jan. 24, 5:33 p.m.

The Flagler County school district ranks 29th among Florida’s 67 districts in the state Department of Education’s first-ever district-by-district ranking, and one of the first of its kind in the United States. St. Johns County ranked first, followed by Santa Rosa, Martin and Sarasota. Flagler was one of 30 districts scoring an A.

Madison was the lowest-ranked district, with the only D awarded. Thirteen counties got a C, including Putnam and Polk. Twenty-three districts got a B, including Volusia, Orange and Osceola. The Osceola B is relevant to Flagler in that Flagler just adopted a uniform policy for next year in large part based on the Osceola model. With Flagler’s coming exception (and Alachua’s), none of the state’s A districts require uniforms.

“I always want to be better and I think all of us want to be better but we’re proud of the fact that were an A district and we continue to be an A district,”  Flagler Schools Superintendent Janet Valentine said.

The rankings are based exclusively on FCAT scores, which limits the validity or reliability of the data, because it doesn’t adjust for social or economic disparities between districts or take numerous other school-based factors into account, such as graduation rates, achievements on advanced placement or similar courses.

Scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, for example, have become unusually inflated over the past several years, particularly through the writing portion of the exam. Last year the statewide passing rate on reading portion of the test was 72 percent for 4th graders and 55 percent for 8th graders. On the writing portion, an improbable 81 percent of 4th graders, 82 percent of 8th graders and 75 percent of 10th graders scored at least a 4 (out of 6), breaking records set in 2010 and 2009.

Flagler’s FCAT scores are usually dragged down by students at the lower end of the achievement scale, the so-called at-risk students who are still struggling to get passing grades as they climb up the grades. Flagler Palm Coast High School two years ago became a Title I school, meaning that it became eligible for additional federal dollars to spend on needs as it sees fit. It hired a ninth grade graduation coach (Matanzas High School has one too), but all schools are focusing on lower-achieving students, Valentine said. The district is contracting with a company that enables schools to have a clearer picture of students’ rankings so as to better target their academic needs individually.

Many of the districts at the top – St. Johns, Santa Rosa, Martin and Sarasota counties, the top four – all have large numbers of students who are socioeconomically fairly well off. Okaloosa County School Superintendent Alexis Tibbetts said she’s concerned about the message the new rankings may send, especially for the districts at the bottom end of the scale.

Those counties tend to be poorer, or have a greater numbers of disabled and minority students, or those for whom English is a second language. Some of them have all of those factors. She cites studies done by the federal government over the last decade as a part of the “No Child Left Behind” system, which classifies groups of students into subgroups.

“And those subgroups of English-language learners, students with disabilities, minorities, and low- socioeconomic status are the four subgroups that have the lowest performance in school,” she said. “And certain districts have a higher demographic that fall into those four subgroups…. The fact still remains that kids in poverty, our English language learners, our minorities and students with disabilities don’t perform as well as other students.”

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson acknowledges that some school districts have serious social and economic factors that weigh heavily on their ability to perform.

“…In no way are we saying that they are the bottom districts,” Robinson said about the lowest-performing districts in a pre-taped video posted to the Department of Education’s website. “What we’ll do now is see how districts will move from year to year…and have a conversation about what we can do as citizens to support our public school system and support reform and innovation across the area.”

In a conference call with reporters, Robinson added, “What I’d hate to do is people try to use poverty and socio-economic status alone as a reason why these students can’t achieve. That would go against 10 years’ worth of work that Florida’s put in place to take our subgroups and move them higher.”

Florida is continuing to stress “accountability” by means of a few, tangible measures applicable to every county, even though those measures have been increasingly questioned.

“Florida is considered a national leader when it comes to measuring the success of our schools,” said Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. “The Florida Department of Education developed the first-ever school grading program in 1999, and since then we have provided our model to other states that wish to replicate our exceptional accountability system.”

Florida’s leadership on “accountability” has not translated into leadership in actual achievements. When the state is compared to the rest of the nation, it still ranks in the bottom in graduates who go on to college, ranks at or near the top of the drop-out charts, and is among the stingiest states in terms of per-student spending, which has been cut further in the past two years. Gov. Rick Scott vows to reverse the trend, but not enough to make up for recent years’ losses. And while almost half the state’s school districts score A’s overall, based on their FCAT results, that achievement is not measurable against others states, because the FCAT is limited to Florida. When compared to students across the nation on national tests such as the ACT or the SAT, Florida, again, fares poorly, suggesting a disconnect between the state’s focus on measurable outcomes such as the FCAT at the expense of nationally measurable academic achievements.

In the near future, the state Department of Education intends to push rankings down to the schools themselves, so that a school like FPC, for instance, will be ranked against all other high schools in the state. “Ranking districts and schools based on data-driven results demonstrates Florida’s focus on ensuring students receive a high quality education and provides another helpful tool for parents, educators and taxpayers,” Robinson said.

–The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

17 Responses for “Maintaining Low A, Flagler School District Is 29th in New Florida Ranking; St. Johns Is 1st”

  1. roco says:

    I think this is a reflection of our worthless school board and the teachers union all of which are only in it for the money. They could’nt hold a regular job in the private sector..

    • hey now... says:

      Our school board is NOT worthless. It is full of some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Our teachers care so much about our kids and you probably have nothing to do with the education system and can’t see this. Do you spend any time in the classrooms with the teachers? Could you do what they do? Think about it.

  2. says:

    At the end of the day this is what it is all about ( even without uniforms)!

  3. Kim says:

    Are you kidding me! Flagler county is ranked with an “A” and they still want uniforms.

  4. Binkey says:

    Roco what makes you think they could not hold a job in the private sector?
    Honestly, I’ve not seen a lot of private sector jobs lately that are all that tough.

    “Florida is considered a national leader when it comes to measuring the success of our schools,” said Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson.

    Florida is the national leader on pulling the wool over people’s eyes in measuring the success of our schools. 20% of the students don’t take FCAT. That’s a large population not to measure.

    I’ve seen the Value Added Model for evaluating if teachers’ students have made gains. This will be another “see how great we are” by the state. It is overly complicated, tries to mathematically take many different considerations into account and is not applicable to teachers in K-3. If the state and school boards would spend their energy on actual best practices for teachers to help students and less energy on complicated evaluations, or initiatives that have little bearing on student achievement (think uniforms), the students would receive a better education.

  5. Dave says:

    Job well done ! Teachers are doing a wonderful job with what they have to work with, what we really need are more parents to spend more time with their kids in the evening time instead of thinking their kids have rough day at school and should just go out and play or lock theimselves in their rooms with their games . We can be number 1 when we all do our proper parenting duties.

  6. JR says:

    Exactly right, teachers are somehow expected to manage in a few hours a day (in primary grades, less for middle/high school) what parents are abdicating — being parents. Only when parents step up and take responsibility for their children’s education will “educational reform,” be more than a penny in a wishing well.

    The exclusive use of the FCAT for ranking purposes is unfortunate, but economically it’s the only obviously reasonable assessment mechanism in place, though why graduation rates are ignored is only illustrative of Tallahassee’s inability to think, forget outside the box.

    Though, another oversight is this: with all the attention on school districts, it only takes one bad teacher (yeah, sorry NEA, they do exist, just keep clicking your heels together) in elementary school to set a student back years academically — coupled with absent parents, even a room away, it seems miraculous that so many students do make it out as well as they do.

    Teacher’s days of blank checks — and as a education student in college, this is in some ways, think creativity and variety, unfortunate — are over. But, until parents are responsible for their own children, it is down right unjust to hold teachers solely responsible for the students’ performance.

  7. Give it a rest says:

    hmmm, wonder if it has anything to do with poverty rates? St. Johns has the lowest # of students on free and reduced lunch. Regardless, anything based on one test score, on one day is foolish!

  8. JL says:

    I totally disagree with the ranking based on the FCAT scores. Come on people. We all know that the teachers now are forced to “teach for the test”. My kids went through it. The teachers are forced to spend weeks, if not months, teaching the test. Sure, the kids do great on what is on the test. But I feel they’re missing out on a full education. Why is it our generation (baby boomers) and our parents got a great education, went on to lead this country, and come up with some of the greatest inventions of all time? Not because we were tested to death, and then rated solely on a test. Teachers do a great job. But they are forced to teach what is on the test. The poorer kids, kids with parents who are working 2 and 3 jobs and don’t have stay at home parents to read to us each night, they tend to bring these FCAT scores down, thereby giving a school a rank of a “D”. That’s not fair to the schools, teachers, or the kids. So schools that are A schools get more federal money. Does that make sense? How about bringing imagination back into the school room. We need to show students how to think, how to plan, how to imagine. All we’re teaching them now is how to take a test, and teaching them what is on the test. God bless teachers for doing what they do. Too bad we can’t keep the government out of the classrooms. They seem to only fowl up whatever they touch.

  9. roco says:

    All the other schools have the same FCAT test (which I don’t agree with) and are measured the same. So why is it our system is so much more less taught.. Dah. Like I said before, the school board is useless and the teachers union are only in it for the money.. They could care less about the students.

    • Devrie says:

      Roco, Aren’t there states that have banned teacher’s unions? Does anyone here know how well those schools are doing compared with the rest of the states?

      • FlaglerLive says:

        Devrie, five states ban collective bargaining for teachers: the two Carolinas, Texas, Virginia and Georgia. The states are not quite paragons of public education achievements, and on national tests such as the SAT and ACT, they’re in Florida’s company, all ranking in the bottom fifth.

        • Liana G says:

          FlaglerLive, rankings for the states you listed are; VA 12, NC 29, FL 30, TX 35, SC 38, GA 39.

          America’s smartest kids: Not in the South (January 24, 2011, by Maureen Downey)

          …”The biggest standardized test is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which measures students based on their exam proficiency in reading and math. With 52 different school systems, NAEP testing is the only comprehensive, if imperfect, gauge for comparing how America’s children are educated.

          So The Daily Beast decided to use this enormous amount of consistent data to try to figure out which states are collectively doing the best job educating their kids. The methodology for this list was created with guidance from a half dozen of the nation’s leading education research experts, and relied heavily on the research of Bert Stoneberg, NAEP State Coordinator for Idaho.”…

          • JL says:

            I disagree with anyone saying the smartest students are not in the south. And you cannot blame teachers unions for what is not taught in the schools. It is the government who tells the teachers what to teach and often, how to teach it. I commend anyone who teaches in the South. They do not get the high wages the teachers up north receive nor the outstanding benefits. They get a poor wage for what they have to put up with. Discipline is not allowed anymore. Kids are not being raised with respect. My children were raised in a military family. They saw many different schools, north, south, east and west. I can tell you, Flagler County teachers are among the best! My sons went on to colleges. As did their friends who graduated with them. Some of their friends went on to the top colleges in the nation. I know of one Flagler student who even scored perfect on the SATs. My sons received an excellent education from Flagler schools. My sons are successes in their businesses and are still in their 20s. And if you people think other states are any better, let me tell you, they’re not. I know from personal experience. It’s not the unions. It’s the government. The teachers in Florida surely are not in it for the money. My mother was a teacher, she had her Masters degree. I wished at times she would have taken another job that paid better. She did it for the kids.

  10. Binkey says:

    29th out of 67 is in the middle of the pack- top 43%ish.

    It seems a lot of effort is being put into the rankings and the reporting of the rankings.

  11. roco says:

    Top 43% percent, that should make the school board and teachers realy proud.. Let’s give them a pay increase for their worthless effort..

  12. judyv says:

    roco – I’d like to have you take the FCAT. Do you have students in the school system? I’m not pleased with the school board, but the teachers – I don’t know of any group of people that work harder and are picked on more.

    Parents need to be more responsible and involved from Kindergarten through high school. It doesn’t end.

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