When the third grade reading and math FCAT scores were released last week, there was a modest improvement over last year for both the county’s two public elementary schools; the Apalachicola Bay Charter School and the Franklin County Schools each showed gains in the percentage of their students scoring at grade level or better.

What is of concern, though, is the scores appear to reinforce a sharply contrasting pattern first suggested in last year’s results.

That just as the ABC School is inching closer to the goal of having three-quarters of its third graders at grade level or better, Franklin is stalled at the point of having two-thirds of its third graders testing at below grade level.

For the second year in a row, fewer than one-third of Franklin third graders taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, of which there were 75, scored at grade level or above in reading and math, in both cases short of the percentages reached in 2011.

In the case of the ABC School, three-quarters of the 35 third-graders were at grade level or better in reading, more than 20 percentage points better than in 2011. About two-thirds of these students were at grade level or better in math, 10 percentage points better than two years ago.

In reading, the percentage edged up from 72 to 74 percent, with the brightest spot the 12 percentage point jump in the number of Level 4s, from 28 to 40 percent of the third grade class. In math, the percentage at grade level or better inched up from 61 to 63 percent.

 “Our biggest goal as far as our student growth and improvement is that we increase our percentage of proficiency every year. Our overall school goal is 75 percent proficient in reading, math and science,” said ABC School Principal Chimene Johnson. “I’m extremely proud we are above the state average, another clear goal is that we hit at least state average.

“I’m very proud of the results, but it comes from a lot of those strategies on our teachers’ part that devote a lot of their time in school,” she said. “I’m very well pleased with the interventional pieces that we put in place this year.”

These interventions included the spending of Title 1 monies – federal monies targeted at schools with sizeable numbers of economically disadvantaged students. Johnson said these funds were used to pay teachers for an hour two days a week to work after school reinforcing standards from the school day, and challenging students to reach the Level 4 and 5.

In addition, the hiring of a full-time teaching assistant in the computer lab freed up individual teachers to take three or four students back to their room for additional intervention, Johnson said.

A third focus was on FCAT Chats with students, where educators at the schools could sit down and talk about preliminary test data throughout the year gleaned from FCAT-related assessments. This gives a projection on how a student will perform on FCAT, and teachers sit down with the student and give an assessment on areas students may be weak in.

“Significant pieces we try to do on a regular basis to see how students are performing,” said Johnson. “It gives a teacher insight on what she needs to do instruction wise, and it’s very informative to students.  They set their own goals, and it allows them to begin to take ownership.”

Superintendent Nina Marks expressed exasperation prompted by the fact the district had put in place several new strategies to address the sharp fall-off last year in the third grade scores at the Franklin School. While this year’s math scores did see a 14 percentage point increase in the number of third graders scoring at grade level or better, the total percentage remained at 29 percent, still below the 31 percent at grade level in 2011.

“We’ve had people in place, academic coaches in place, to work with this group of students, and a lot of professional development,” said Marks. “We put things in front of people. We have stepped up doing a lot of things to get people where we thought they needed to be for the benefit of students.

“I really hoped we were going to see improvement,” she said. “There is something not working and I’m not exactly sure what that is.”

Marks said there were some bright spots with the results, including declines in the numbers of third graders below grade level in reading and math, but the overall hope for strong improvement did not materialize. She said she plans to meet with Principal Eric Bidwell and his staff this week, and next week with third grade teachers after they requested to meet with her.

“I believe change is necessary and we are very concerned about the level of learning taking place with our students and we’re going to be very proactive to see what we can do to turn this around,” Marks said.

The superintendent said that the third grade scores create a focus on a more urgent priority for the district amidst the revised, state-assisted approach to its many educational needs.

“This puts a different spin on the priorities,” she said. “We’ve got an opportunity now with the change in leadership over there for a lot of things to change. They’re really being proactive.

“We do have an opportunity for some changes to happen,” said Marks. “They may be changes people are not happy with, but we need to observe whether business has been taken care of as it should be. I think the public needs to look for many changes based on what we now believe. We just know we need to make some changes and they need to be based on the needs of our students.”