A solid sign of progress in Manatee County education with higher FCAT scores

May 28, 2014 

Rosa Cline's kindergarten class presented a message of encouragement for Olga Tharp's third grade students, who were about to take their first FCAT in April 2013. ERICA EARL/Bradenton Herald

The Manatee County school district's teachers and students can celebrate solid advances on FCAT 2.0 scores -- with increases all around, some quite large.

At the same time, those improvements still fall short of statewide averages for the most part. That sobering fact cannot be forgotten, but there are optimistic signs of progress.

Most impressive is how Manatee County's improvements ranked statewide in a year when overall scores remained fairly even from the previous year.

Plus, Manatee County scores indicate an upward movement that is critical to ongoing success -- and reason to congratulate a district that has been struggling with standardized test marks for years. That perspective cannot be overlooked.

The brightest mark comes from the fourth-grade students who took the writing test -- with 54 percent passing, besting last year's mark by nine percentage points, a terrific leap.

Not only that, but the district surpassed the statewide average in this category for the very first time -- by one point. What makes this score noteworthy is the fact that the state average actually fell a few percentage points.

When the Florida Department of Education singles out only three school districts out of 67 in the state for congratulatory recognition for scoring success, that statement should resonate around this county.

Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart applauded Manatee students -- and teachers -- for improving in all five assessment areas, especially noting the third-grade math score up five percentage points, the 10th-grade writing marks up seven, and the already mentioned grade-four writing success.

(By comparison, the other two school districts Stewart cited fell short of Manatee's broader success. She only cited three, with Manatee atop the list.)

Specifics on Manatee County school district other good marks include:

• Third-grade math test, 54 percent passing this year vs. 49 last year. Statewide, 58 percent. That's still short of where we need to be, but another five percentage point improvement next year will put the district where it needs to be.

• On 10th-grade writing, 58 percent passed compared to 51 percent last year and 64 percent statewide.

In another look at perspective, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Diana Greene pointed out another salient fact in Saturday's Herald account of FCAT scores: The normal annual test increase is only 1 or 2 percentage points. Which makes the 9, 7 and 5 jumps for Manatee students all the more significant.

There are several schools that deservedly earn special recognition for soaring scores. Manatee High School 10th-graders hit a home run with a 40-point improvement in writing scores, from 23 percent in proficiency last year to 63 percent today.

Myakka City Elementary did better, surging from 24 percent to 76 percent on writing. Palmetto and Moody elementary schools both rose 49 percentage points, also on writing, to 60 percent and 89 percent respectively.

These are the first test results under a full year of stewardship by Superintendent Rick Mills, who instituted a emphasis on student achievement upon assuming the district's top job last year. His approach and new team are showing positive results.

These good results must be tempered a bit by the fact that the state has changed FCAT scoring parameters on "proficiency" to allow more students to pass, though that still does not negate Manatee's standing against the state averages.

Next year will be difficult to compare to previous years given the new Florida Standards curriculum -- a modified version of the Common Core State Standards most states have adopted -- and new standardized tests. More FCAT results will be forthcoming soon, including school grades.

Admittedly, Manatee County remains behind other Florida school districts this year, despite the giant leaps in several categories. But this is an incremental student achievement game over the long haul, though we hope and expect scores against statewide averages to improve year over year.

This year, teachers and students should celebrate -- alongside the district administration, the school board and the community. These new marks are a big win.

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