School grades are dropping in Flagler County and across the state, and would have dropped precipitously more had the state Department of Education not convinced the state Board of Education to pad grades by preventing them from dropping by more than one letter grade overall this year—as was the case last year.
More than one fifth of Florida schools (550 of the 2618) benefited from the grade-padding provision that prevented letter grades from falling by more than one notch. Despite that, 107 elementary and middle schools received an F across the state, the highest number of failing schools since the high-stakes grading began, and almost triple the 40 that got F’s last year. The state graded 21 additional schools this year. Had the state not padded the grades, 261 schools would have been rated F.
In Flagler County, not a single school saw its grade improve, though three maintained their A rating: Indian Trails Middle School and Wadsworth and Belle Terre Elementary. Belle Terre has never known a grade other than an A since it opened in 2006.
But Buddy Taylor Middle saw its grade drop from a B to a C, Bunnell, Rymfire and Old Kings elementaries, as well as Imagine School at Town Center, the charter school, all saw their A drop to a B. Grades for Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast High School will not be released until late fall or early winter.
Had the state not padded the grades, Bunnell and Rymfire Elementary would have seen their grades drop to a C.
For the district as a whole, an A rating will be virtually impossible. While that rating hasn’t yet been released, the district expects to maintain the B it received last year, after four straight years as an A district.
The weaker grades are a reflection of the Florida education system’s move toward tougher standards. In writing tests especially, the state now requires students to score a 3.5 on a scale of 6 in order to be considered proficient. In previous year, a 3 would have been sufficient, but proficiency under a 3 essentially inflated the quality of writing skills.
The percentage of students in Flagler County who earned a 3.5 this year dropped from 20 to 30 points, depending on the school.
The state is implementing tougher standards as it moves toward adoption of the national common core standards, which aim to challenge students more rigorously, and avoid the pitfalls of state-based tests, such as the old FCAT, that created artificially high standards. Those standards did not stand up to the rigors of nationally-normed analysis.
Put another way: while grades are falling, they are doing so for a good—and necessary—reason, as standards are rising and students are being challenged to perform better. The falling grades don’t mean that students are falling behind, but that they are re-adjusting to harder standards, and are expected to eventually meet those higher standards.
“We didn’t want to enter common core without having some sort of transition period,” Shawn Schmidli, the Flagler County school district’s curriculum and accountability specialist, said. “That’s really what we see here as we transition to tougher standards, again it’s going to be tougher and tougher to earn an A rating.”
Schmidli explains with a simple analogy: if athletes are expected to qualify for a 1-mile race by running it at a 5:15 pace one year, far fewer students would qualify the following year of the standard was set at 5 minutes. That doesn’t mean that students are running less well. But it does mean that they’ll have to work harder to match the 5 minute qualifying mark. Eventually, the number of qualifiers returns to its previous level as students work harder to match it.
The same will happen with academic grades.
“Overall the numbers were pretty much where we had projected them to be,” Schmidli said. “We actually anticipated this drop and it kind of came to fruition, and that drop was seen throughout the state, so there was nothing that really stood out that we did not anticipate.”
He added: “It’s tough for people to really make sense of it but that’s a trend we’re really going to continue to see with higher standards.”
The Florida Education Association, the teachers union, was critical of the grading system in a statement Friday. “The constantly changing measures the Florida DOE uses in grading schools renders them meaningless as a comparison of school progress,” FEA President Andy Ford said. “This system is flawed and does not reflect rising student achievement and the dedicated and caring efforts by our public school teachers and other school employees to provide our children with a high quality education.”
A few stats released by the state department and Flagler County schools:
- 550 (21 percent) of the 2618 schools in 2013 benefited from the “safety net” provision which maximized the letter grade deduction.
- In 2012, the number of A’s was 1242 (48 percent of schools)
- In 2013, the number of A’s was 760 (29 percent of schools)
- A drop from 48 percent to 29 percent of our schools classified as A’s
- In 2012, there were 609 or 23 percent B schools.
- In 2013, there 676 or 26 percent of schools were B’s
- In 2012, there 494 C’s, which was 19 percent
- In 2013, there were 721 C’ which was 28 percent of our schools
- In 2012, there were 212 8 percent D
- In 2013, there were 353 or 13 percent D schools
- in 2012, there were 40 F schools (2 percent)
- In 2013 there were 107 F schools (4 percent)
- There was a total of 2597 schools in 2012, compared to 2618 in 2013
- 852 Elementary Schools out of 1766 Elementary School (48.2 percent) earned an A in 2012, compared to 479 out of 1781 schools (26.9 percent) earning an A in 2013
- 1005 out of 1754 Elementary Schools dropped a letter grade (57.3 percent)
- 417 out of 848 elementary schools with letter grades in both 2012 and 2013 dropped a letter grade (49 percent of elementary schools lost their A status)
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.