Third grade test scores strong at ABC School, slightly improved at Franklin County

Franklin County school administrators had mixed reactions when the reading scores for all third graders in the district were released last month.

At the Franklin County Educational Foundation banquet, the district’s teacher of the year, Franklin County High School math teacher David Cochrane, lavished praise on his colleagues at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, where three-fourths of that school’s 36 third graders had tested proficient in English Language Arts.

More than four out of 10 of these students were either 4s or 5s, meaning they were reading one or two years ahead of grade level, and a third of the class was at grade level, which is a 3. About one in five third graders scored a 2, and only two scored a 1.

These numbers showed a 14 percentage point improvement over the test results of the third grade class last year, particularly in the school’s ability to nearly double the number of students who scored at level 4. The two third grade teachers, ABC School Teacher of the Year Karen Ward and Jessi Ammons, had instructed both classes.

“It is another different group of third graders but we had the same two teachers in place,” said Principal Chimene Johnson.

The school’s performance on the Florida Standards Assessment test, well ahead of the state average, meant they had a higher percentage than any elementary school in the neighboring counties of Liberty, Gulf and Wakulla.

The test results told a contrasting story of the 73 third graders tested at the Franklin County School. While there had been an overall gain in proficiency of six percentage points over last year’s class, that total was at 37 percent, more than 20 percentage points below average for third graders statewide.

Nearly half of the FCS third graders scored at level 1, which means that 35 of them are mandated by the state to attend third grade reading camp, which began June 4 and runs through June 27. For six hours each day, teachers Leigh Smith and Mallory Whaley, are working to boost their reading performance, to the point where these students meet state requirements that they be able to read in order to advance into the fourth grade.

“Students in Level 1 demonstrate an inadequate level of mastery (on the FSA test),” parents are informed in written materials sent them by the state. “To be prepared for the next grade level, they are highly likely to need substantial support.

The Florida Department of Education has introduced $500 scholarships, for instructional material, tutoring, and summer or afterschool educational programs, to students who scored at either level 1 or level 2.

About one out of five FCS students was at Level 2, with about one in four at Level 3, and fewer than 1 in 10 at either a level 4 or 5.

“I can give you a thousand reasons why we didn’t perform as well as we expected,” said Franklin County School Principal Michael Sneed, in his remarks on the reading scores to the school board May 30.

The other scores, for reading, math and end-of-course exams at each grade level on up through the high school grades, have not yet been released. But it was clear from comments by Sneed and Superintendent Traci Moses that they were addressing the challenges as they affect the entire school population, and not just third graders.

“I think our teachers fought the good fight and we have to do a better job with truancy, and doing a better job holding our parents accountable. It’s not going to change overnight; I wish it would,” said Sneed, noting that of the school’s third grade Level 1 students, half of them had unacceptably high levels of absences.

Acknowledging what he termed “incremental increases” in test performance, School Board Chair Stacy Kirvin calculated that if 17 third-graders had a total 340 absences during the school year, that would average to 20 absences within a 180-day school year.

“We have got to get those kids in class by whatever means necessary. We need the ones who are missing four and five days a semester,” Kirvin said.

“We’re doing what we can do,” said Moses, whose administration has toughened up on addressing truancy and unexcused absenteeism through a strategy that ranges from home safety and wellness checks to court action against parents.

“We need them at school every single day,” she said.

Kirvin has been a proponent for offering summer remediation to third grade level 2s, as well as to those in the fifth and eighth grades who show signs they are well-behind in the subject matter as they prepare to advance to middle or high school.

He has consistently asked at monthly board meetings that these additional students be invited to and accommodated at the summer school.

In her report to the school board on the various summer offerings, which include June programs for ESE students, Kindergartners, and Credit Recovery, and a 10-day Algebra boot camp in July, Human Resource Director Karen Peddie indicated there were not sufficient teachers to address the 12 third grade Level 2 students.

“We’re talking about it but we’re not doing it,” said Kirvin. “I didn’t realize this was a problem.

“If my kid was a level 2 and they didn’t get remediation, I’d be very disappointed,” he said.

“You can’t make them come,” replied Moses.

“We can’t hold a camp if we don’t have the teachers,” said Peddie. “These were the only teachers that were interested.”

Kirvin suggested the district reach out to retired teachers, who would be paid an hourly rate at Step 10 on the salary schedule “There’s a whole bunch of retired teachers on St. George Island,” he said. “They want to help our school. We need one or two people to come in and teach for 16 days.”

The district proposed to look for additional help, but it was unclear whether level 2s could be accommodated this summer.

“We can’t force Level 2s to come,” said Peddie, noting that both food and transportation are provided, although not from door to door.

Following Sneed’s assessment, Moses stressed teamwork and accountability in her remarks, as well as the need for parents to get more fully involved in their child’s education.

“You have a team behind you,” she addressed to Sneed, as well as the several faculty members in the audience. “We’re all going to roll up our schools. We need parents and students to show accountability as well.

“We can’t do it by ourselves,” Moses said. “You have an administration that has a team mentality, we’re going to own this together. Nobody needs to point fingers at anybody.

“You have a team that’s going to support you and stand behind you,” Moses said. “Thank you all for your hard work; we have your back.

“We’re going to make Franklin County into one of the best school districts in Florida,” she said. “We have the talent in our students, we need the support. It’s not just a school issue, it’s a community issue.

“These students are our future leaders,” Moses said, citing the need for churches, civic organizations and individuals to all help.

“We have to figure out how to build that bridge to parents,” said Sneed. “We’re not doing enough.”