There’s not a soft and gentle way to summarize how well the Franklin County Schools elementary and middle school students performed on the spring 2017 reading and math standardized testing.
It was far from a very good year.
Based on data released earlier this month for the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), required of all public school students in the state’s 67 counties, students in grades four through eight in every instance scored below state average for proficiency in math and English language arts.
In some cases, the gap at the Franklin County School was striking, such as in fourth grade reading, when just 18 percent of the 68 students who took the test scored a 3 or above, which is considered proficient. Two-thirds of the fourth grade students scored a 1, considered “inadequate” by the state, and deemed to be seriously lacking in a grasp of the subject.
In the case of the Franklin fifth grade, just 19 percent were deemed proficient in reading, with half of the students scoring 1s.
A similar picture emerges in math scores for the elementary and middle school students, that of a consistent lagging behind state averages, with a large percentage of students in the 1 category and only a scant number in the 4 and 5 categories.
The gap in proficiency levels between Franklin County School students and those at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School appears to be widening, with the ABC School consistently outperforming state averages, often with as many as 60 to 77 percent of its students demonstrating proficiency in math and reading, with an increasing number of them scoring 4s and 5s, outpacing their classmates across the state.
It’s an alarming picture of contrasting results, and in an interview Monday, Superintendent Traci Moses pledged to address the problem.
“This data is unacceptable,” she said. “I’m very concerned about it.”
Moses said her first order of business will be to drill down into the details of the test results, by having the district’s information technology guru Richie Herrington “disaggregate” the numbers and break them down by subject matter, grade level and individual teacher.
“Was attendance an issue? Do we have service issues?” she said, referring to whether students are being properly accommodated based on an analysis of their learning challenges.
“We’re going to look at every student who scored a level 1 and try to get to their reason why,” she said.
Moses said she plans to convene regular meetings of school-based teams that will improve communications between the different adults in the learning process.
Moses outlined a range of areas to explore, including progress monitoring, strategies for intervention, the curriculum and use of supplemental materials, and after school tutoring.
Asked whether she saw herself as pro-teacher or anti-teacher in this pursuit, she answered “I was a teacher, what do you think?
“I’m pro-student. But teachers can’t do everything alone. It takes support of parents, teachers and administrators, but it also takes a level of accountability,” she said. “The students have to work hard too. It can’t just be the adults.”
Moses said she plans to step up progress monitoring with students at Franklin County School, so that teachers have a clear picture of where the gaps are with a student well before the taking of the test in the spring. The ABC School, where Moses taught for several years, has long been a proponent of robust progress monitoring and it has helped to some degree in their strong performance.
“There’s more to it than that one test,” said Moses. “Progress monitoring needs to be year-round. We need to do our best to measure that.”
She said the administration is examining how best to implement a new progress monitoring software that can be used at both Franklin County and the ABC School. “The collaboration between the two schools is absolutely necessary for success,” she said.
Moses said she’s is also looking at both schools’ curriculums, where the reading is similar but the math varies.
She hinted that she may not wait until an adoption year to make changes. “I can’t in good faith wait two years to replace a curriculum that teachers and staff aren’t confident in,” she said.
Several teachers have shared their plans to leave in the spring, some due to retirement, others due to relocation. In addition, a handful weren’t asked to return, in letters sent out in April.
“That’s not atypical. We’ve had teachers leave and come and go,” she said. ”I have hit the ground running trying to fill the positions.”
The school board has approved the hiring of Jill Rudd, from Wakulla County, as principal, and Rob Wheetley, from Liberty County, as assistant principal. “There’s been too much instability with leadership,” she said. “Instability has had a negative impact.”
Together with Karen Peddie, who directs human resources, and staffer Alison Chipman, Moses has been busy online and at recruiting fairs, working to attract top-quality educators by showcasing the beauty of the area and the competitive salary structure with neighboring districts.
It isn’t a breeze to hire the best new teachers in the state, there’s an overall shortage, but Moses said they’re doing their best, “It’s hard to tell when you hire people how they’re going to perform when they get in there,” she said.
The district is looking into an “educator prep” program within the district which will jump-start career training in the teaching fields for Franklin County students while they are still in high school.
One thing she said she will not tolerate is to have non-certified teachers handling classroom assignments, as has been the case with some instances of long-term substitute teachers. She said she would choose to use Florida Virtual School as an option if that situation should arise.