County third-graders excel over rest of state on FCAT


Hidden Oak Elementary third-grader Lilly Denny gives her landmark project presentation on the St. Louis Arch in front of her classmates in teacher Kathy Kaminsky's classroom Friday. Kaminsky said the class is currently studying U.S. regions.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.

Now in the second year of a newer, tougher FCAT, Alachua County students are holding their own.

District third-graders’ reading and math scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test improved slightly over the past year, while fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade writing scores varied.

Most notably, 61 percent of third-graders achieved a reading score of 3 or higher on the 5-point scale, which is the state’s benchmark for satisfactory progress. That’s an improvement of four percentage points from last year.

The state average this year is 57 percent.

On FCAT math, 58 percent of third-grade students scored a level 3 or higher, the same as the state average.

“We’re always trying to be ahead of the state,” said Diana Lagotic, director of elementary curriculum for Alachua County Public Schools.

FCAT writing results for fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders were also released Friday.

Fifty-four percent of Alachua County fourth-graders scored at least a 3.5, the passing score. That reflects an improvement of two percentage points from last year.

The eighth-grade FCAT passage rate fell from 55 percent last year to 53 percent this year, and the 10th-grade rate fell from 61 percent to 57 percent.

All three groups were a few percentage points short of their state average passing rates.

However, the passing score of 3.5 this year is higher than last year, when the passing score was dropped to 3 after many districts found the writing prompts controversial.

No matter the opinions on the FCAT’s validity in testing student achievement, the test is currently the only statewide assessment Florida has.

Scores matter for the students, who must pass the reading test in third and 10th grades, but they also matter for others.

Student scores are the largest contributing factor to school grades and teacher evaluations.

In a conference call, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said he was excited about the FCAT writing scores, which showed the most improvement statewide over last year’s scores.

But he said he was displeased with the marginal statewide gains that third-graders made in reading and math.

“I am a person that doesn’t believe that static scores are ever acceptable,” he said.

Lagotic said Alachua County Public Schools officials are pleased with their third-graders, who did make significant gains.

She said they’re looking forward to seeing the fourth- and fifth-grade scores, which should be released sometime next month.

“We’re feeling very positive,” she said.

Hidden Oak Elementary School had the highest scores of any public school in the district, with 82 percent of third-graders earning a 3 or higher on the reading test and 83 percent in math.

Charter schools Healthy Learning Academy, Expressions Learning Arts Academy and Micanopy Area Cooperative School all had 80-90 percent of students earning satisfactory scores in reading and math — but with far fewer students taking the test.

Seven Alachua County elementary schools had their days extended by one hour for reading instruction following a ranking last year that listed them among the 100 lowest-performing schools in the state.

For the most part, the extra hour appears to have helped.

Duval, Lake Forest, Metcalfe, Shell and Waldo elementary schools, along with the charter Caring and Sharing Learning School, all saw improved reading scores compared with last year.

Caring and Sharing made the greatest jump, with 54 percent of third-graders earning a score of 3 or above, up from just 16 percent last year.

Verna Johnson, director and co-founder of Caring and Sharing, said in addition to the extra hour of reading instruction, students received extensive after-school tutoring that catered to their specific needs.

“We were able to do a lot of things that we weren’t able to do before,” she said.

Rawlings Elementary was the only school of the seven that didn’t improve its reading scores. The percentage of students who scored a 3 or above fell 19 percentage points from last year.

Thirteen percent of Rawlings’ third-graders achieved a satisfactory score on FCAT reading this year, and 62 percent scored a level 1, leaving them at risk of being held back.

Principal Jen Homard said it was too soon to tell what factors contributed to the lower scores, but that her staff already is starting to examine the scores to determine the weak points.

She said teachers will spend all summer tweaking their practices and developing lesson plans that are most effective for Rawlings students.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board,” Homard said. “We fully expect to see great gains next year, though, when we re-evaluate the strategies.”

Of the seven schools that received the extra hour, Shell Elementary saw the greatest overall improvement, with 48 percent of third-graders scoring a 3 or higher in reading, up from 31 percent last year, and the same percentage scoring a 3 or higher in math, up from 27 percent last year.

Both scores are still below the state average, but it’s a start, Principal Libby Hartwell said.

“We are over the moon out here,” Hartwell said.

After last year’s disappointment with FCAT scores at Shell, the teachers, parents and students banded together, she said. Everyone worked hard, but a positive attitude helps, too.

“It has just been a total community effort, and it has paid off,” Hartwell said, adding that the morale boost from this year’s scores is sure to help the school keep improving next year.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top