MANATEE — Manatee County third graders this year didn’t do as quite as well on their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading and math scores compared to their counterparts last year, according to the results released Thursday.
This year, 68 percent of the district’s third-graders read at grade level, compared to 71 percent last year, according to the FCAT scores released by the state. Statewide, 71 percent of Florida’s third-graders were considered proficient in reading, a 1 percentage-point drop from last year.
In math, 70 percent of Manatee’s third-graders were considered proficient in math, compared to 75 percent last year. Their statewide peers fared better, with a passing rate of 78 percent, a gain from last year’s 76 percent.
“I’m not happy with our scores,” said Lynette Edwards, Manatee schools’ assistant superintendent of curriculum. “For the most part, they’re not representative of our school district. And we certainly will be looking very deep at the data and trying to arrive at some conclusion as to what have created the results we have.”
Students who obtain a Level 3 in either subject are considered proficient.
This year’s scores surprised district officials.
Manatee students had been making steady progress in math in the past four years, with more students passing the FCAT each year, they said. As for reading, last month’s writing results for Manatee’s fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders released showed gains for most schools, and officials had hoped that would translate into similar improvement in reading.
“When I think about the writing scores, I was really very, very excited as they are both related,” Edwards said. “I did not anticipate seeing this kind of dip in the third grade. I am hoping we are not going to see this trend in fourth (grade) and above.”
Twenty-five out of 37 elementary schools, including charter schools, saw a decrease in the percentage of students reading at grade level, according to Thursday’s results. Twenty-eight saw similar dips in math.
Kathy Hayes, principal at Gullett Elementary, said she is analyzing her school’s scores. This year, 72 percent of her third-grade students were considered proficient in reading, compared to 85 percent last year. In math, 71 percent passed, down from 86 percent last year.
“We are doing well, and we are analyzing the results,” she said. “We have 120 new students this year from the (Freedom Elementary) realignment, and we are getting to know those children and their needs.”
Because of overcrowding at Freedom, school board members allowed some students to be moved to the two-year-old Gullett Elementary temporarily for a year. So for the year, Gullett grew from 420 students to 550.
“We have a bigger population now, and a bigger number of students needing remediation,” Hayes said. “But our children have had a great level of support of this year.”
Only five elementary schools — McNeal, Bayshore, Blackburn, Braden River and Manatee School of Arts and Sciences — saw improvement in both math and reading scores. Manatee School of Arts and Sciences, a charter school, improved its score by 12 percentage points in both reading and math, a gain third-graders celebrated by getting free pizzas Thursday.
Principal Miriam Jolly attributed the success to a handful of unique strategies. Starting this school year, Jolly and her staff pushed back all the desks to the wall in classrooms and let kids move around during lessons. Students can talk to each other about their school work, and classes are sometimes punctuated by push-ups or other physical activities.
“Kids do better out of their seats than in their seats to learn,” Jolly said. ”When they are engaged in what they are doing, they are working even more.”
Blackburn Elementary saw the number of third-graders reading at grade level jump to 65 percent from 54 percent last year. In math, the scores saw a hike too, from 51 percent last year to 62 percent this year.
Principal David Marshall said the success came from starting remediation for their needy students right at the start of the school year. The school also started a writing initiative, where students were asked to write every day. Staff and volunteers helped students read whenever they could.
“We are waiting for our fourth- and fifth-grade scores, and we hope to see similar gains,” Marshall said.
The FCAT reading scores play a major part in the promotion of third-graders to fourth grade.
But there are other ways failing students can be promoted, such as attending summer reading camps or working with mentors.