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Beach school slips to “B” grade/ focus on gains

July 23, 2014
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

After achieving an overall grade of "A" in 2013, Beach Elementary School has returned to a grade "B" status among state schools.

According to a report on elementary and middle schools by the School District of Lee County and Florida Department of Education last week, Beach Elementary received a B by compiling 495 points out of an 800-point scale for the preliminary 2014 grade.

Beach Elementary has had great success in past years with grades. Prior to a C in 2012 and a B in 2011, the Beach school recorded an A from 2005 to 2010. It notched a B in 2003 and 2004, an A in 2001 and 2002 and an B in 1999 and 2000, according to state statistics.

Like in years' past, Beach Elementary Principal Larry Wood would rather focus on learning gains at the small island school.

"Basically, I think our kids are doing well in terms of learning gains," he said. "We aren't focusing on an A. We are focusing on learning gains for kids and learning the standards. Regardless of the letter grade, in my opinion, we are still an A school, and we will always be an A school."

Principal Wood pointed out the writing scores were low throughout the county, and new training and materials are expected hopefully sooner than later so that there is time to teach the students before the April testing.

"Writing tests were not expected, but writing will be evaluated at the fourth and fifth grade levels, with fifth graders tested online. Throughout the district, writing scores went way down. Of course, that affected our grade," said Wood. "They are making so many changes so quickly that it's really difficult for schools, particularly teachers to keep up with the transitions."

Grade criteria is based on the number of students that passed the FCATs in third, fourth and fifth grade, the number of kids that made learning gains in Reading and Math from one year to the next and also the percentage of the lowest 25 percent of the kids from the prior year that made learning gains in Reading and Math.

Letter grades are based on performance, but lower numbers in general enrollment factor into it.

School enrollment has an indirect relationship as far as percentage points. In May, 34 students graduated from the fifth grade.

"We or the state doesn't look at our lowest 25 percent," said Wood. "Our (school) sample is too small.

At our school, because of the small size, scores from a few children can dramatically change our overall score."

According to state records, this is the last year the state department will use the current school grade calculation formula. The future formula is expected to have a larger focus on individual student progress and success.

"However, I believe they will still award us a grade according to whatever these new standards are and, if that is published, then it counts in everybody's eyes," Wood said. "I think this coming year will be difficult for everyone to adapt to the new standards."

In eight years, the Beach school principal has seen four different sets of standards, beginning with the Sunshine State Standards to New Generations State Standards to Common Core State Standards to Florida State Standards now.

"Every two years the whole concept has changed," he said. "And, between those two years, they tweaked some of the standards. So, it's been in a constant state of flux and very difficult for teachers and students."

Beach Elementary will begin its school year on Monday, Aug. 18. Teachers will officially have their first day of school one week prior on Monday, Aug 11 , and an annual open house event is scheduled for Saturday Aug. 3, from 9 to 10:30 p.m.

"My staff is outstanding. They are going to training all summer long to keep up with the changes. They meet every week in small groups to improve our instructional strategies and keep up with things," said Wood. "At FCAT time, sometimes the scores come out as an A and sometimes it doesn't. We try not to brag when we get an A or cry when we get a B. We are just going to do the best we can for each individual child."

County report

Among District schools at the elementary and middle school level, 40 percent earned a rating of A in the State Accountability system, compared to just 36 percent state-wide.

Seventy percent of District schools increased or maintained their grade. Twenty Lee County schools improved their grade by at least one letter, while six Lee County schools Harns Marsh Elementary, J. Colin English Elementary, Patriot Elementary, Skyline Elementary, Treeline Elementary and Harns Marsh Middle - each increased their grade by two letters.

The District's overall grade improved to a B this year, making Lee County one of only four of the top 10 largest districts to increase its letter grade, and one of only 17 districts state-wide to do so.

"We are very pleased to be one of 17 school districts in the State to improve its District grade. As one of the ten largest districts in the State, we are happy our District grade is on par with our peers," said Superintendent Dr. Nancy Graham. "This is a reflection of hard work across all schools as we continue to focus on improving throughout our system. Now the work begins to drill down to the specifics of each school and assist staff as they develop a plan to help students think and learn. As the Superintendent, I continue to encourage parents to focus on their child's individual scores rather than their school's grade."

State statistics

As for the state of Florida, the number of elementary and middle schools earning a preliminary "A" grade increased by 195 (7 percentage points) over last year in the final year of the current grading system, according to preliminary data released recently by the Department of Education. Overall, 962 elementary and middle schools statewide earned the top grade.

The number of schools earning a preliminary "F" grade this year also increased.The Department is focused on ensuring all low performing schools are provided the necessary assistance and support they need to help their students achieve.

"The increase in the number of schools earning an 'A' this year is great news for students and teachers who have worked hard for this success," said Commissioner Pam Stewart. "I appreciate the work by the educators and families and students and know they will continue to improve in the future even as we transition to a new grading system."

This is the final year school grades will be calculated using the current formula. The new grading system next year will support the more rigorous Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessment which will replace the FCAT. The new school grading formula will be more simple and transparent.

"The new grading system that will start next year will continue to be crafted with input from parents, teachers and educators," said Stewart. "Its focus on student achievement and gains will help ensure a fair accountability system that helps measure student knowledge of the new Florida Standards."



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