The Florida Department of Education released the dreaded annual school grades today. Flagler County schools can take heart. As a whole, they did better than the rest of the state, and held their own rather well against their own previous-year records: five schools got an A, down from six last year, and three schools got a B.
One school, Palm Harbor Academy–a charter school–got an F, making it the third year in a row that a charter school in the county has failed. In two previous years, the failing school was Heritage Academy. The two successive F’s forced the Flagler County School Board to close the school at the end of the last school year. The pressure is now on Palm Harbor to avoid that fate. This was the first year that Palm Harbor was awarded a grade. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run.
Flagler County’s other charter, Imagine at Town Center, raised its grade from a C last year to an A this year.
The grades are not yet out for Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast High School, both of which scored a B last year.
Among the traditional public schools, Belle Terre Elementary continued its streak of A’s going back to its very first year in 2006. That’s seven straight years, an unparalleled record for any school in the county, though Old Kings Elementary has had As in seven of the last eight years, including this year. Indian Trails Middle School could have rivaled Belle Terre’s record. Indian Trails had been carrying an A since it opened in 2006. It dropped to a B this year. Bunnell Elementary returned to an A after a two-year absence. Wadsworth Elementary maintained its A. And Buddy Taylor Middle School dropped to a B. Belle Terre Elementary’s principal, Stephen Hinson, is now Buddy Taylor Middle’s principal. He moved there late in the school year, replacing Winnie Oden, who moved to Pathways, the alternative school (just renamed Everest).
“We are extremely pleased with how our schools performed this year,” the school district said in a statement. “We had a significantly higher percentage of schools earning an A or B rating this year than the state. It should be noted that this was all accomplished in the face of higher standards set forth by the Florida Department of Education. Even with the higher standards, 100 percent of our traditional public schools earned either an A or B letter grade in comparison to the state which only had 69 percent of its schools earning an A or B. 56 percent of our elementary, middle, and charter schools earned an A in comparison to the state which only had 43 percent of its schools score in this category.”
Statewide, the number of elementary and middle schools with an A dropped precipitously this year as the percentage of schools making a D or F nearly doubled. A schools dropped by more than 300, from 1,481 in 2011 to 1,124 this year. Every other grade level saw an increase. The percentage of D and F schools went from 6 percent in 2011 to 11 percent this year. But Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson found some comfort in the numbers.
“I am particularly pleased that it is the first time that we have included students who are just learning English and students with disabilities in the school grade performance component,” Robinson said in a statement. “It is important that we measure our schools by the performance of all students, since that is the most accurate and fair way to represent our diverse state.”
Because of the inclusion of students with disabilities and English language learners, the State Board of Education approved a policy keeping all schools from dropping more than a letter grade. The schools in Tuesday’s report included the non-high school grades of some combination schools as well as elementary and middle schools.
Florida has raised expectations for school grades five times in the past ten years, according to the state Department of Education, but only as measured against the state’s own standards. This year, when it raised standards to be more in line with national standards, scores fell drastically. To keep that drop from being reflected in school grades, the state board agreed to create an artificial floor, thus ensuring that no school would drop more than one letter grade from the previous year. The ploy took a price on the test’s credibility, and amplified the voices of its critics.
“The formula to calculate school grades is extremely elaborate and complicated,” Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the teachers union, said. “The State Board of Education has changed the proficiency levels and point requirements used to calculate school grades numerous times over the years. One year’s “A” could be the next year’s “C” based solely on a formula calculation. These changes make it virtually impossible to compare and judge the quality of public schools.”
Ford said that school grades have fluctuated because the state board and the state education department have initiated too many changes simultaneously without giving districts and teachers the time needed to adjust the curriculum and instruction. Along with changing the calculation formula, they have made the tests more difficult, instituted higher passing scores and required computerized testing. All of these changes and requirements occurred as the Legislature decreased funding to school districts.
“The expanded uses of the flawed FCAT to retain students, evaluate teachers and administrators, and rank schools and districts call into question the tremendous academic gains our students, teachers and schools have achieved,” Ford said. “There have been too many errors and subjective judgments in the FCAT-devised accountability system for parents, educators and the public to find it credible and constructive.”
Flagler County School Grades, 2001-2016
|Bunnell Elementary||C||C||A||A||A||B||B||A||A||B||B||A||B (C)*||A||B||C||C|
|Belle Terre Elementary||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||B||B|
|Old Kings Elementary||B||A||A||B||A||A||A||A||A||B||A||A||B||A||A||C||A|
|Rymfire Elementary||B||A||B||C||A||A||B (c)*||A||B||B||B|
|Indian Trails Middle||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||B||B|
|Buddy Taylor Middle||A||A||A||B||B||A||A||A||A||A||A||B||C||C||B||C||C|
|Flagler-Palm Coast High||C||B||B||D||C||B||C||A||D||B||B||B||A||B||B||C||B|
(*) 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.