Distractions and disruptions have a price: only 49 percent of Flagler County’s 10th graders last school year were reading English at grade level, the lowest proportion in over a decade and a decline from 53 percent in 2021. Flagler’s 10th grade reading scores have declined every year since 2018, when 55 percent of students scored at grade level or better. Students were not tested in 2020. In 2019, 54 percent of students had scored at grade level.
The decline in 2022 was especially steep at Flagler Palm Coast High School, which recorded its lowest score by far in 11 years. FPC’s results were offset somewhat by improvement at Matanzas High School. One brighter spot: 61 percent of the 28 tenth graders at iFlagler, the district’s virtual option, scored at grade level or better, a small contradiction of the common notion that in-person instruction is necessarily superior to virtual instruction.
The low scores are not without context.
Although schools were back in session exclusively in person but for iFlagler, the first part of the school year was significantly impacted by a surge in covid cases among students and faculty, resulting in widespread absenteeism. The state Department of Education forbade districts from instituting effective safety mesures such as masking, off-campus options or on-site rapid testing, though the local health department offered the latter for free. The absence of mandated safety measures exacerbated absenteeism and likely affected students’ performances.
The district experienced chronic staff shortages and retirements. And for well over a year, the school board has been disproportionately focused on ideological rather than academic issues, seeking to ban books, punish student and teacher expression, hurting morale, and in one case, going so far as to target a reading text for elimination because it contained an admiring reference to Black Lives Matter. One school board member filed a criminal complaint against the superintendent and machinated against a teacher until she was fired, another maneuvered to fire the school board attorney. Faculty were were as likely to look over their shoulders as at their lesson plans.
The school board itself often devolved into embarrassing displays of acrimony and dysfunction amplified by agitated and agitating audiences at evening meetings. The two board members who were overwhelmingly the source of distractions and controversies, Jill Woolbright and Janet McDonald, will be off the board by November (Woolbright lost a re-election bid, McDonald lost a bid for a county commission seat.) Classrooms could only be insulated so much from that broader context.
Last year, 54 percent of Flagler Palm Coast High School’s 10th graders scored a 3 or better, out of 586 students who took the written test, which consisted of two 90-minute sessions. Of those, 34 percent scored a 4 or a 5, and 25 percent were at level 1, meaning that they were “highly likely to need substantial support for the next grade.”
At Matanzas, exactly half the 379 students who took the test passed with a level 3 or better, 28 percent of whom scored a 4 or a 5, and 26 percent were at level 1.
Level 5 is mastery, level 4 is proficiency (“likely to excel in the next grade/course”), level 3 is satisfactory (“may need additional support for the next grade/course”) levels 2 and 1 are below satisfactory and inadequate.
This year, 45 percent of the 607 tenth graders at FPC who took the test passed with 3 or better, with 25 percent scoring at level 4 or 5, and 28 percent scoring at level 1. At Matanzas, 53 percent of the 357 students who took the test passed with 3 or better, including 32 percent at level 4 or 5, and 20 percent at level 1.
Flagler’s overall passing rate matches that of the state and places it tied with two other counties in 24th place out of 67 counties. neighboring St. Johns County, consistently the highest performing county in the state, recorded a passing rate of 71. No other county came close. Only two were in the 60s: Liberty at 64, Walton at 62. Volusia was at 46, Putnam at 35.
The test was part of the Florida Standards Assessment, which required that 10th graders pass their English assessment to earn a diploma. The FSA is being phased out for the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, which is based on progress monitoring.