It wasn’t exactly a gift of the magi, but some wise men in Tallahassee bestowed an educational present on Franklin County the week before Christmas.

Which is probably not a bad week of the year for bringing home a D on your report card.

When the Florida Department of Education (DOE) announced Dec. 18 school grades for the state’s 502 regular high school and combination schools, the Franklin County School was one of just seven Florida combination schools, serving preK through 12th grade, to receive a "D" school letter grade.

Ten other regular high schools got Ds, and seven other combination schools received Fs, as did one other high school.

This means that according to this one blinking signpost alone, Franklin County School ranked in the lowest 5 percent in the state of these schools.

It was the first D for the school since 2008. It was only the fourth D in the last 14 years, with the other two in 2000 and 2001, prior to consolidation.

The state assigns grades based on points assessed, half of them based on student achievement and learning gains data from state assessments, such as how many learning gains were made among all students as well as the lowest performing students. The FCAT results are a major part of this half.

The other half of the total points is based upon components outside state assessments, such as participation and performance in accelerated classes, graduation rates, and college readiness.

Schools that earn at least 1,115 points receive an A, with Bs going to schools with 1,050 to 1,114 points, and Cs to those with between 925 and 1,049 points. In all three cases, these schools have met learning gains targets for the lowest performing students, as well as reading performance requirements.

With D schools, which tally between 840 and 924 points, there is no requirement for learning gains or reading performance.

Franklin County School tallied 915 points, and while it was just 10 points short of a C, Superintendent Nina marks said she doesn’t expect the district will appeal.

“It doesn’t appear that we have grounds for that,” she said. “Ours is going to stand.”


Low graduation rate hurt score

Marks released a more than 500-word prepared statement a day after the school grades came out, that tried to find some fringes of silver tinsel lining the edges of this giant red letter.

In terms of overall improvement in math performance between 2011-12 and 2012-13 at the school, Franklin saw the numbers of students at grade level or better improving by 11 percent, which ranked it 137th out of 3,053 schools throughout the state. Among combination schools, the rank was 13 out of 294, which was in the top 5 percent, and among 1,628 Title I schools, which are ones with high percentages of low income students, Franklin was 86th.

In contrast, learning gains in reading over the last two school years were zero, which ranked the school just above the middle of the pack.

As for the basic measurement - the percentage of students scoring at grade level or better regardless of how well they did the year before - and indicated by a 3,4 or 5 on the five-point FCAT exam, only 44 percent of students were at that level in reading, ranking the school in the lowest 25 percent of the schools.

In math, it was 51 percent at grade level or better, which corresponds to about the lowest third. And in science it was 54 percent, which is in the top 25 percent of Title I schools, and the top half of all schools.

“We had enough points in the FCAT (portion) that we were a solid C,” said Marks.

The superintendent opened her statement by quoting Education Commissioner Pam Stewart as saying “the latest round of school grades comes amid ongoing debate over the accuracy and complexity of the grading formula.”

She then shared Stewart’s remarks that outlined how grades for high schools are based on test scores, as well as graduation rates and college readiness. Stewart noted that “schools receive points based on how many students take college-level courses and how they score on tests such as the SAT.”

In terms of graduation rate, Franklin received only 124 out of a possible 200 points, because the school’s four-year graduation rate is hovering around just 60 percent. The graduation rate dropped just slightly from the year before, 59 down to 58.8 percent.

The drop-out rate climbed slightly, to 4.3 from 4.1 percent in 2011-12, but remained more than double the percentage statewide of 2.0 percent. “These are areas of concern and the leadership will be addressing the graduation and dropout rates in January 2014,” said Marks.

In terms of high school students’ participation and performance in what is called “accelerated curriculum,” courses such as advanced placement and dual enrollment in a state college or other venue, Franklin School received 151 out of a possible 300 points. The school showed a drop in students taking part in such courses, and no growth in how well they performed.

As a combination high school, Franklin also received a middle-school acceleration component, worth up to 100 points, which measures middle school students' participation in and performance on high-school level end-of-course assessments. The school received a total of 78 points, with performance outpacing participation.

Post-secondary readiness in reading improved, by about 12 percentage points to 61 percent, but there was no change with math, which has a percentage of no better than one-third of the students being ready for college level courses.


Marks says picture is improving

School officials and school board members say privately that they are not shocked by the D score, given the statistics they had examined from testing in early 2013.

“The Franklin County School District began a transition toward change on July 1, 2013,” said Mark. “Data results were studied and professional development was held based on identified weaknesses and areas of need.

She said that the district “created a proactive plan of action to include new administration, an on-site principal and assistant principal, dean, reading coach, guidance department, and media specialist as additional leadership support.”

Marks said that once the strategic plan was initiated in August 2013, the new principal, Eric Bidwell, began one-on-one conferences with faculty, focusing on changes required by DOE, the teacher evaluation process, and the level of expectation for this school year 2013-2014.

“Communication is improving among all levels at the school, district office, and in the community,” said Marks.

She said data results from these state reports “have the district looking, again, at the economic situation our community is facing.

“The district impact on families is evident. The local economy and lack of employment greatly affect the success of our students,” she said. “Our children need everyone, school personnel, parents, and community, to work together to support our children in their pursuit of a brighter future through education.”

Marks said programs focused on college and career readiness “will prepare our students for the workforce,” citing a partnership with Gulf Coast State College to increase the opportunity for dual enrollment. “Currently there are over 40 students taking dual enrollment courses and many more preparing to exit Franklin County PreK-12 School with industry certification.

“We need your help to increase the number the students that successfully graduate. Please volunteer, share your expertise and talents, or be a mentor,” she said.


A history of Franklin County grades

The following is a list of grades for Franklin County School for the past 14 years. Prior to 2007-08, the grade was based on the performance of students at Apalachicola and Carrabelle high schools.

Grade 2013      D

Grade 2012      C

Grade 2011      B

Grade 2010      B

Grade 2009      C

Grade 2008      D

Grade 2007      C

Grade 2006      C

Grade 2005      C

Grade 2004      C

Grade 2003      B

Grade 2002      C

Grade 2001      D

Grade 2000      D

Grade 1999      C