Fewer Manatee schools making the grade

District leaders are skeptical of Manatee County’s FCAT results

nalund@bradenton.comAugust 7, 2010 

MANATEE — Three Manatee County schools improved their grades this past school year and two failed based on student performance and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test released Friday.

Of the 56 schools assessed, Tillman Elementary, Oneco Elementary and Johnson Middle schools jumped to a B after posting a C in 2009-10, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.

Meanwhile, G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary and PAL Charter Middle School Academy, both received an F. The grades came out more than a month late due to problems scoring the FCAT — the basis for the grades that are used to reward top schools and correct failing ones. Education Commissioner Eric Smith rejected a request from school superintendents to further delay the grades until additional questions about the FCAT scores can be answered.

In total, 19 schools saw their grades drop, 10 dropping by more than one letter grade, and 25 schools received the same grade as last year.

“I’m happy with our students’ efforts and we’re not unhappy with our teacher effort. We wished they would have held up grade release until our questions could have been answered,” said Superintendent Tim McGonegal, who along with other district officials questioned the accuracy of the test results.

Superintendents from Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Duval and Leon counties asked for an investigation of this year’s scores and the release delay after noticing what they termed as anomalies in their FCAT data. Manatee’s superintendent was not among that original group.

“Everybody knows it’s wrong,” said school board member Barbara Harvey. “It’s so sad, because that confuses everybody. They waited this long and school is about to start, so why bother until you get it right?”

Across the state this year, 74 percent of elementary schools received an A or B — down from 87 percent in 2009. The percentage of middle schools getting an A or B dropped from 80 percent to 78 percent.

Of the 56 schools assessed in Manatee: 16 received an A; 11 received a B; 17 received a C; and four received a D.

School grades for high schools won’t be released until later because of a change in the grading process.

Rogers Garden Elementary opened during the 2009-10 school year. Its principal Wendy Acosta is being moved to another school administration position during the 2010-11 school year.

PAL Charter also failed after netting a C during the 2008-09 school year. The school’s director, Fred Spence, was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Samoset, which jumped from a C to an A from 2007-08 to 2008-09 school year, dropped to a D this past school year.

“Obviously we’re very frustrated, it’s a big let down for the school, but the state scores show all elementaries are down,” said Samoset Principal Scott Boyes.

Across Florida there were 300 less A grades in elementaries this past school year compared to the prior year. In addition, one out of three dropped by one letter grade.

Of the 241 Samoset students who took the test, 91 were not fluent in English, Boyes said.

“That 37 percent of students are ELL (English Language Learners), but yet they counted on the test,” he said.

To compensate, the school is changing its approach.

“We’re making adjustments in our reading program and progressing forward with a learning focused program that helps develop complete lesson plans for teachers so the students learn at the best rate possible,” said Boyes, who on Friday said he was in North Carolina with some of his teachers for training.

The district also has hired extra teachers to help with remediation.

Other significant drops this past school year include Oasis Middle, an A to a D; Braden Charter School, Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary, both a B to a D; Sugg Middle, Ballard Elementary, Prine Elementary, and Palma Sola Elementary, all an A to a C.

Last year more than half — 28 of the 55 district’s schools assessed — received an A. Of the rest: 14 received a B; 11 received a C; and two received a D. Three alternative schools just received a “passing” grade.

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents Thursday cited concerns about the authenticity of learning gains in fourth and fifth grade reading and in matching student scores with student demographic profiles, both critical areas that can impact the ultimate results.

“Pearson, the company that the state paid $254 million to score the test and report results back to the Florida Department of Education, admitted that the delay in scores were due to problems in matching student scores with student demographic profiles,” the release states. “The reports presented do not address one of the main requests from the assessment directors, which was to examine a random sample of students and verify the matching of the students to the assessment results. This is vital in regards to measuring individual student learning gains. Learning gains are determined by comparing each student’s scores from one year to the next.”

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