On June 21 the Flagler County School Board reviewed Superintendent Jacob Oliva’s evaluation and applauded him for the 94 percent average he earned from the five board members. It turns out to be the district’s only A of note this year.
For the first time in the 15-year history of school and district grades, Flagler County schools did not earn a single A in 2016. Nor did any school improve its grade from last year. Only one traditional public school, Rymfire Elementary, managed to maintain its grade from 2015. Imagine School at Town Center, the charter school, also maintained its B. Every other school dropped by at least one grade. Old Kings Elementary dropped by two, from an A to a C.
For the first time in their 11-year history, Belle Terre Elementary and Indian Trail Middle schools have lost their A rating, each falling to B.
The district managed to hold on to its district-wide B rating for the fourth year in a row, though it did so barely, with 55 percent of total points possible. Two fewer points and it would have been a C-rated district.
School officials were expecting bad news, not least because the grading system’s method has been altered innumerably since it was instituted in the late 1990s and its credibility is increasingly suspect because of changes, errors and inexact comparisons between tests from year to year. “Waiting to see how Flagler does but anticipating the wors[t],” Colleen Conklin, who chairs the Flagler school board, said this morning in a brief post on her Facebook page. “The School grading formula continues to lose credibility. Shameful.”
Conklin made reference to a joint statement by superintendents Barbara Jenkins of Orange County and Walt Griffin of Seminole County, who asked parents to keep certain factors in mind as they take in the new grades. The superintendents did not discredit the grades, but they said they should be seen as “baseline year” grades that “reflect learning gains made by students which could not be captured from the 2014-2015 FSA as there were no previous, similar tests to use for comparison.” FSA refers to the Florida Standards Assessments, the latest incarnation of the state’s standardized testing system. That system has gone through many changes and been undercut by errors and confusion.
The two superintendents were careful, however, not to question the validity of the new grades. Rather, they pointed to tougher standards. “It is important for our community, especially our parents and students, to know that learning gains are now more difficult to attain,” the two superintendents said in their joint statement. “If we see a decrease in school grades, it will likely be because of the new and complicated learning gain structure.”
Oliva echoed that analysis in an interview this morning. “It’s a new formula, it’s a new set of standards, it’s a new assessment, and I don’t think there’s a need to hit the panic button,” he said. “Obviously we want to get back to our A status. Overall we’re pleased that we maintained a B status.” He added: “We’re going to use this data to make us better.”
But he also cautioned that the way learning gains are calculated into the formula that nets those grades have changed significantly. The requirement that students make learning gains is now much more rigorous at every level, whether a student is performing below proficiency or at a top level. Students are graded on a scale of 1-5. Proficiency is a 3. If a student scored a 2 in 4th grade, that student is expected to score a 3 in 5th grade to show gains. If a student scored a 4, that student must still show gains–not necessarily a 5, but a gain within the three-tiered range of a 4. A student scoring at the top, a 5, is expected to maintain that grade. One more wrinkle: “They didn’t calculate learning gains or student growth because there was nothing to measure gains against,” Oliva said, as the tests themselves are new.
For all the grimmer results, there are also highlights the district is pointing to, such as the larger number of students taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses and tests, more students enrolled in dual enrollment (in high school and college simultaneously), and a majority and increasing number of students meeting or exceeding proficiency in language arts, math and science.
But there are also persistent trouble spots, particularly among the lowest-performing, and failing, quarter of the student population.
The grades are still used by the state Department of Education as measures of individual schools’ quality. The state uses the measures to reward (or punish) schools with “bonus” dollar awards that have typically netted Flagler schools upward of half a million dollars a year. Schools use the money at their discretion, either as bonuses to faculty and staff or for capital improvements or occasional perks the regular school budget would not cover.
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.