Still committed to making the grade

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By Jenna McKenna

Even the best schools in Florida have hurdles to overcome. For the third year in a row, and the fourth year out of five, Cedar Key School earned an "A" for its FCAT results. Unlike last year, however, Florida's smallest public school did not make AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress.

AYP is a standard of the national No Child Left Behind program, Cedar Key Principal Sue Ice explained.

"The requirements for AYP, which is the percentage of students in each grade who are at grade-level proficiency for reading and math, goes up each year," Ice said. "This year we didn't have enough of our students with disabilities at grade level in math and reading."

It was a near, near miss. Out of the required 58 percent for reading proficiency among students with disabilities, 55 percent were at grade level. Out of a needed 62 percent in math, 61 percent of Cedar Key's students with disabilities were at grade level.

Ice says the school is already hard at work making sure that won't happen again. Starting last year, Levy County Schools added a Web-based assessment called ThinkLink that students take three times a year. The publisher, Discovery Education Assessment, claims the test is over 90 percent accurate in predicting students' success on FCAT and Sunshine State Standards testing. Ice says independent evaluation in the district corroborates that the system is a very accurate predictor.

"With ThinkLink, we're able to test students more often and get results immediately instead of having to wait," she said. "That way we can find out which students are struggling and start remediation immediately."

Although Cedar Key's results were excellent overall, the school had some curious gains and losses. The percentage of students meeting high standards in reading went up, while math and writing declined. The percentage meeting high standards in science, a new criterion in 2007, improved this year. There was a 10 percent drop in normal students making gains in math, while those considered "struggling students" showed a four percent improvement.

Ice said that teachers across the curriculum at Cedar Key are working very creatively to integrate a variety of disciplines into their lesson plans.

"I've seen our teachers assign a project that requires a research component, a writing component and a technology component to make the presentation," she said.

Ice said she wasn't sure what caused the drop in writing proficiency this year, given the school and community's dedication to writing programs, but noted that another new program was being added to help restore Cedar Key's writing prowess.

"We're adding the Writers In Control program this year, and our teachers will be going for training at Chiefland Elementary during preplanning," she said. Bronson Elementary and Yankeetown School already use the program successfully.

Cedar Key's teachers and administrators are game to meet the challenges of the coming year's work. Last year, the school had 14 School Choice transfers. This coming year, 17 more students have qualified for School Choice transfers, and for the first time at Cedar Key, some of them qualify as English Language Learners.

"We'll be learning how to work with these students to bring them up to proficiency," Ice said.

Ice expects her transfer students to contribute to Cedar Key's academic success because of the atmosphere the school and community combine to build.

"What I see every day in and out of the classroom is the general concern by teachers that students perform well at all levels," she said. "The teachers are concerned for the welfare of their students and want them to succeed, and find other ways to teach them when they don't. They create a love of learning that spreads to all subject areas."

Noting that the pursuit of excellence isn't just maintenance and remediation, Ice said that Cedar Key will be adding an Advanced Placement (AP) English class this year, taught by April Phillips.

"We've wanted to do this for a while, and we think the students will really take advantage of it," she said.

Cedar Key's teachers aren't the only contributors to this success story, Ice said.

"I just want to say how proud I am of our students, staff, parents and community," she continued. "How hard they all work together - our community support, the city-sponsored writing contest and art teacher - everyone should be proud of our school and all the work they put into it."