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Cedar Key School improves on school assessments

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By Sean Arnold

The Florida Department of Education recently released its annual school grades, and Levy County’s are remarkably consistent with last year’s.

In fact, all 10 of the district’s eligible schools scored the same letter grade as in 2016. The district also retained its ‘C’ grade.

The grades compile a range of measures that include achievement and learning gains components in English Language Arts and Mathematics as well as achievement components in Science and Social Studies. They also take into account graduation rates and “acceleration success,” which factors in college dual enrollment, industry certifications and various advanced placement courses completed by students.

The achievement and learning gain components are based on statewide standardized assessments, mostly through what are called end-of-course assessments (EOCs) and Florida Standards Assessments (FSAs).

Superintendent Jeff Edison says the reading standards are the toughest obstacle to solve, as they cover a multitude of areas rather than a single identifiable standard. He says that teacher shortages – a statewide phenomena – can pose difficult challenges in the grading, especially when the instruction shortages occur in areas critical to the school scores.

“We had some adversity at a couple schools that we were really worried about,” said Edison, who has been superintendent since November. “It’s very hard right now to find teachers, so if a biology teacher goes out you can’t just replace him or her.

“There are certain subject areas that count for a lot of points, and at Bronson (Middle High School), they had some teachers in high-impact subject areas with some illnesses, and their percentages are down in those areas. We’ve got plans for building that back up next year for those kids that missed that instruction. We’ve got some plans in place already to buffer that situation next year, because things happen.”

Most area districts, including Levy, dropped a grade from 2015 to 2016 after the formula underwent significant tweaking. This year’s calculation remained the same as in 2016.

Next year’s grades will remove the EOC Algebra 2 component, which has proved to be a stubborn outlier for schools.

Cedar Key School, Chiefland Middle High School and Bronson Elementary School remained the only ‘B’ schools in the county, while the remaining schools – Chiefland Elementary School, Williston Elementary School, Bronson Middle High School, Yankeetown School, Williston Middle High School, Whispering Winds Charter School and Nature Coast Middle School – kept their ‘C’ grades.

Williston’s Joyce Bullock Elementary School, which serves students from prekindergarten to second grade, is not eligible for a grade because students don’t begin taking the assessments until third grade.

CKS and BES are within three percentage points of an ‘A’ status, while CMHS is six points from an ‘A.’

CKS and Yankeetown were very strong in the Social Studies Achievement component at 93 and 92 percent proficiency, respectively.

“We went up two percentage points, which is good, especially with administrative changes and a lot of new teachers coming in,” said Joshua Slemp, who is entering his second year as principal at CKS. “We’re really striving for an ‘A,’ and really just trying to give the kids a great education at a very small school. My teachers do an excellent job.

Slemp said his school also saw high marks in its math scores from its middle grades, and said it’s focused on offering more advanced placement courses, including through virtual courses.

“We definitely have some areas to work on, but we’re up for the challenge,” he said. “We’re trying to meet the needs of all of our students. The staff is great because all of them are teaching in more than one subject area.”

CES saw the biggest gains in the county as it went from a 41 – the lowest score for a ‘C’ – to a 51. It was the first school year under principal Lacy Redd.

“We had a lot of growth in our math area, which really contributed to boosting our percentage points,” CES assistant principal Kelly Gore said. “We’re just continuing to work on those areas where we need those learning gains. We implemented quite of few things this year with our intervention groups, and obviously it was a success because we did improve in those areas.

“We’ll work more on that, get that soaked into the (Language Arts) area as well and build up our points there.”

NCMS, led by its English Language Arts (ELA) Learning Gains score, saw a boost of five points, while CKS and BES, which showed particular strength in the ELA and the Mathematics Achievement components, enjoyed upticks of two and three points, respectively. Whispering Winds fell from a high ‘C’ to a middle ‘C.’

Williston Elementary School performed relatively well on the Mathematics and ELA achievement components in picking up a point.

New CMHS principal Dennis Webber promised an ‘A’ grade next year.

“We’ve got a great faculty and staff and we’ll close that gap this year, and provide the extra academic resources that they need,” he said. “It’s been a great job by (former Principal) Mr. Matt (McLelland) and the staff the last few years, they’ve been so consistent, and were an ‘A’ school a few times.

“We’re right on the cusp of getting that ‘A’ again. By this time next year, we’ll be looking at an ‘A.’ I’m pretty confident with what we’ve got.”

The school stood out in the college and career acceleration component.

“It looks like we’re definitely on the right track, but you always want to evaluate yourself,” said McLelland, who transferred to the district office last month. “I think with Mr. Webber will have some areas he’ll excel in, and I think by adding him it’ll put the school in the upper echelon.”

Edison says the district is committing its energies to the areas in which it can make the greatest difference.

“We’re going to have a major push on the standards and planning on the front end,” he said. “It’s not a matter of hard work, because they’re working hard. It’s a people business – people are the most important thing - but you’ve got to do the right work. If you don’t do the right work, you can’t get the right results, so we’re going to be pushing to make sure we’re doing the right work.

“Our goal is to be at or above state average in everything,” he added. “We’ve got some areas that we’ve been very good in for a while, where those teachers are doing the right work.”

For more on the school grades, visit http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org.