Einstein School breathes a sigh of relief after FCAT change

Gavyn Thorsal, 7, cheers while playing a quiz game with classmates Skyler Robertson, 9, at center, and Macy Bingham, 8, at far left, at the Einstein Charter School Wednesday, September 11, 2013. At right is elementary reading teacher Rachel Howard.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, November 18, 2013 at 9:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 18, 2013 at 9:50 p.m.

A Gainesville charter school will not be graded on the A-to-F scale after receiving an alternative rating from the state.

The Einstein School serves only children with language-based learning disabilities in grades 2 through 8.

The school received a grade of F this year based on students' Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores and lost $60,000 in capital outlay money as a penalty.

But earlier this month, the Department of Education heard the pleas of Einstein School administrators and gave the school an alternative rating, which means the school's rating will be based solely on student progress and not the percentage of students who pass the FCAT.

Under the new system, students will still take the FCAT. Rather than receiving a grade, the Einstein School will be rated improving, maintaining or declining. The threat of closure, applied to a school that receives consecutive failing grades, disappears.

Einstein students might struggle with dyslexia, attention disorders and other learning-based disabilities, but they have normal IQs, so the school is not eligible for an alternate assessment, which would replace the FCAT.

Since students who come to the Einstein School are often several years behind grade level in reading, “they still make progress on the FCAT that's significant, it's just not high scores,” Principal Christine Aurelio said.

For example, a student might come in with a low 1 on the FCAT, which is scored on a 1 to 5 scale, and end the year at a high level 2. That constitutes improvement, but 3 is the passing score.

When students start reading on grade level and passing the FCAT, Aurelio said, they're sent back to public school. “That's the whole point of the (Einstein) school.”

Usually, Aurelio said, the alternative rating is reserved for schools serving at-risk youth or specializing in dropout prevention.

But students who struggle with basic literacy are at risk for failure later in life, she said, so the DOE expanded its definition and granted the rating.

Aurelio said the hard work on the part of teachers and students will remain, but removing the possibility of closing the school has lifted a burden on everyone at the Einstein School.

Getting that recognition from the DOE felt good, as well, she said.

“They recognize now what we're doing,” she said. “They recognize the school grading system is unfair for us.”

The school still is trying to find out if it can replace the $60,000 in capital outlay money that was cut as a result of the failing grade.

“That's a big uphill battle” because of the budget cycle, said Florida Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville. “But we haven't given up on that.”

Perry, who is on the state House of Representatives' education committee, said he has requested a list from his staff of other schools throughout the state that employ similar teaching methods to those at the Einstein School and could benefit from the alternative rating system.

“We believe there are other ones around the state that are being affected — we just don't know where they are,” he said.

Perry said he hopes to discuss the status of those schools when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

He also said state officials should look into the Einstein School's teaching method, called neurodevelopment of words, and see if it can be implemented in other schools around Florida.

About 10 percent of the population is affected by dyslexia, according to the International Dyslexia Association.

However, Perry said, few Florida schools cater to students with dyslexia like the Einstein School does.

It's important for legislators to support those schools, he said.

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