It’s tough being small

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Cedar Key pays price in state grading

By Lou Elliott Jones

The state Department of Education’s grades for high schools are out and it’s a mixed report for Levy County..
The report card:
• Bronson Middle/High School got a C, down from last year’s B
• Cedar Key High School got a C, down from last year’s A
• Chiefland got a B, down from last year’s A, and
• Williston High School got a B, up from a C.
“Overall, I feel good about the grades,” said School Board Chair Paige Brookins of Chiefland. She said CHS, which celebrated it’s A last year, was very close to achieving it again.
Superintendent Bob Hastings said Williston High School was just one point shy of achieving and “A” this year.  “We’re ecstatic about Williston’s grades,” he said.
“I’m, overall, extremely happy with this year, particularly  with Chiefland and Williston. And for Bronson and Cedar Key schools may not be as much.”
The grades released by the state last week use a broad set of values to determine a school’s grade, including graduation rates and student participation and performance in advanced coursework. The high school grade is earned based on two major elements: 50 percent from the performance of each school’s students on the FCAT, and 50 percent from factors that include the graduation rate, performance and participation of students in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Dual Enrollment, Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), and industry certification, readiness for college of high-achieving students as measured by the SAT, ACT, or College Placement Test (CPT) and the graduation rate of at-risk students.
It is those components of the grading system , plus it’s small enrollment that worked against Cedar Key High School this year.  As a result, the school’s grade is based entirely on FCAT scoring and how students performed in the improving scores and the lowest quarter of the class improved.
Principal Sue Ice said the school has about 100 students who take the FCAT in the 3rd through 10th grades.
“What a lot of the community needs to know is most of the high schools are graded on these new components.” She was referring to the graduation rates, participation in AP programs, readiness for college and college entrance tests and other items not a part of the FCAT that go into the grading.
“Although those numbers for us are very good, they didn’t count those components for us. If we have fewer than 10 students they don’t feel its statistically correct to use that. They throw out that component.”
“Take postsecondary readiness,” Ice said. “That class only had nine kids in it. in the 10th grade who scored a 3 and above on the FCAT. But that was not counted, so we don’t have the advantage of having points..”
On the FCAT scores, Ice said, “We knew that we had work to do when the FCAT scores came out last year.. The standards are going up, The cut (off) scores are going up.
“Our students are doing dual enrollment and AP. They are  doing that and we will keep working as hard as we can to meet the new standards.”
Brookins said the reason CHS went down a letter is” “The main reason is that the lower quadrant didn’t go up.,” She was referring to the 25 percent of students with the lowest scores in reading who showed no improvement in the past year. In contrast the lowest 25 percent in math did show improvement.
Hastings said Bronson’s standing was also affected by students in the lowest quadrant not making enough improvement. “Bronson, again, they got hurt by the lowest quartile. It’s a B/C school,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed because their scores overall were good. And I’m still happy where they’re at.”
Math was the sore point for Williston last year and the board hired a consultant to work with the faculty to raise the score. It may have made a difference as Williston’s has 83 percent of its students scoring a Level 3 or higher in math and 70 percent of its students showing gains in math scores.
For Williston, the grade means it has gone from being an F school in 2009 to a B this year.
“Oh yeah, that’s a bright spot,” Brookins said. “I am so proud of Williston High students and the teachers. They have had to do a lot. And the administration put in all the extra effort. It obviously paid off.”
As for the drop by two letters at Cedar Key, Brookins said there are so few students that if just one score goes down, it has a  larger impact than it does in the county’s larger schools.
“Their cell sizes are so small,” Hastings said. “With other schools the FCAT, .graduation rates, the number of students taking the SAT, ACT and AP — all those things count. But because at Cedar Key their cell size is so small it’s based chiefly on their FCAT grade and when you have one or two students who don’t do well it affects it significantly.
“It’s nothing to be disappointed about overall.”
He said maybe some Cedar Key students had to retake the test to graduate, but every student ended up passing. “Their graduation rate is extremely high for any school.”
When it came to graduation rates, Chiefland showed an improvement from 81 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2011, while Williston went from 76 percent to 83 percent in the same period and Bronson went from 71 percent to 65.
The at-risk graduation rates for the county’s three large high schools all improved with Bronson going from 61 to 62 percent, Chiefland from 68 to 83 percent and Williston from 64 to 72 percent.
Hastings is already looking forward to next year’s grades. “Next year it’s going to be a whole new ball game with FCAT 2.0.”
And as the standards get more rigorous, the public should be bracing itself for changing grades.
“Next year the school grades will be significantly lower and this might be time to prepare people. Next year is a whole new ball game.” He said predictions are that 70,000 more students will fail the new comprehensive testing.
Hastings said the FCAT 2.0 will have two right answers to questions and students will have to discern which is “more right” that the other, the passing score has been raised, and other standards will apply
“We have been preparing and trying to get all the teachers involved in the new standards and codes,” he said. “Our school grades are going to go down., but hopefully by not as much.”