Manatee school officials welcome proposed rule change for school grades

eearl@bradenton.comJuly 16, 2013 

MANATEE -- As concerns spread throughout the state concerning drops in school grades, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett has recommended a new rule that will affect schools districts throughout Florida, including Manatee County.

The state board of education meets Tuesday to discuss Bennett's recommendation that school grades should only be allowed to drop one letter grade at a time.

Bennett made the recommendation to address concerns from multiple school districts, including Manatee County, about school grades falling because of a new rule that changed the passing grade of the FCAT writing from a 3 to a 3.5.

Manatee County Superintendent Rick Mills said this measure will help address FCAT scores.

"This is a positive impact for all school districts concerned about their schools dropping letter grades down to an 'F,'" Mills said Monday. "It impacts everybody -- the community, parents, teachers, staff and faculty."

Diana Greene, Manatee's deputy superintendent for instruction, also welcomed the proposed rule change.

"The commissioner is bringing a recommendation to put a parachute back in place," Greene said.

Greene said with the change, Manatee could possibly have fewer "D" or "F" schools. But the district still does not know its grades for this past school year, Greene noted, and it could be as late as November until the high schools have enough data from the state to calculate their school grades.

"We get school proficiency first," Greene said.

Only 49 percent of Manatee County third-graders passed the reading test on the FCAT with a score of 3 or above, and only 57 percent

of fifth-graders and 53 percent of 10th-graders passed.

For the math test on the FCAT, only 49 percent of third-graders, 51 percent of fifth-graders and 55 percent of eighth-graders passed with a 3 or above. Only 57 percent of fourth-graders and 54 percent of eighth-graders passed the writing test with its new standards of a 3.5 or above. Tenth-graders in Manatee County fared a little better with a passing rate of 62 percent.

Greene said these scores weigh heavily on school grades and make a difference between a school being a "C" or a "D."

Greene said that with these statistics, she will work with schools even if they only drop one letter grade.

"We will always deal with actual proficiency points earned," Greene said.

Greene said that if a school sees only that it fell one letter grade, it might not look at the true picture and do all the things necessary to make gains.

Greene said they will still need to look at the scores and consider what the school's letter grade would be if they had been able to fall more than one letter grade at a time.

The district will continue to look at increasing proficiency levels, especially with the two Manatee County elementary schools that had to submit state-mandated school turnaround plans for this coming school year, she said.

"I am only on about day 70 (on the job), so I do not pretend I know everything about why our achievement is at any particular point," Greene said. "It goes back to curriculum, class resources and how instruction is delivered."

Greene said the new executive directors of middle schools and high schools and the still-to-be-hired executive director of elementary schools will be out in the schools gathering information.

"We will put a plan in place to address areas of weakness and take advantage of strengths," Greene said. The district hopes to have a "plan for here and now" in all schools sometime in September.

There will be a long-term academic plan in January for the transition from Next Generation standards to Common Core standards, she added.

"We are at a crossroads," Greene said. "The long-term academic plan will address the conversion to common core, instruction and evaluations."

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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