Okaloosa Turns Corner on FCAT to Recoup Top-10 in Reading for all Grades 3rd through 10th; Middle Schools Move to Top 5!

In her first full year in office, Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson takes great pride in the fact that Okaloosa Schools are back near the head of the pack among Florida’s sixty-seven counties.  Most every grade level moved up in state rankings in both reading and math, and all grades, 3rd through 10th, are among the state’s top 10 in reading.  The district also excelled in science, with students finishing in the top five in both of the assessed grade levels (5 and 8).

For the past few years, Okaloosa County has shown a pattern of decline on the FCAT. “We knew we had work to do,” says Jackson “and I wanted to support our teachers who have worked tirelessly this year to get the job done.” Jackson has been concerned about the pressures on the school administrators and faculties who have all had to deal with added stresses ranging from blended standards to rigorous teacher evaluations. “Our schools were tasked with implementing new standards that began as Common Core and shifted to Florida Standards, all the while knowing that our FCAT assessments were going to be based on the old Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSS).  We had to start talking to our teachers about the instructional shifts while making sure that NGSS were still being addressed.”

Marcus Chambers, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, attributes the rise to the work going on at the school-level. “Each school’s leadership team made up of administrators, instructional coaches, and teachers, met with the Directors of Curriculum for quarterly reviews to analyze school-specific data and discuss how each school would address soft spots in the data. That required an enormous effort on the part of each school, and the payoff is clear.”    

There were some declines in grade-level performance. The 5th grade saw losses in both reading and math, while the 4th grade moved from 17th to 27th in the state for math. Jackson explains, “At first glance, it looks like a loss. More important than comparing last year’s 5th grade to this year’s 5th grade (which is how the data has been released to the media), we’re more interested in tracking the same group of students over time. If you look at the data, 5th grade students actually performed better than they did as 4th graders a year ago in both reading and math – from 11th to 8th in the state for reading and 17th to 8th in the state for math.”

“Our scores are starting to rise again,” Chambers continues, “and we have a strong plan in place as we move forward.” The District will continue to meet with principals throughout the summer and a new School Performance Plan (SPP) will be put into place. Each school’s SPP will help teachers make the shifts towards new statewide assessments for both English/Language Arts (ELA) and math. “We want to be aggressive, not just for state ranking, but to make certain Okaloosa students are college and career ready.”

Chambers explains that schools will have a clear focus going into the 2014-15 year, “Using data, we will provide school, grade-level, and subject-area support to assist all students. Content-area teachers will continue to implement close reading, writing with evidence from text, and student talk in the classroom, while math students will focus on Math Practice 3, constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.”

Jackson admits there is still work to do in certain pockets, “Elementary math will be a focus for our district, and we’re going to continue professional development that supports our progress in writing.” Both 8th and 10th grade showed significant improvements in writing – 8th moved from 35th in the state to 18th while 10th grade went from 21st in the state to 11th. “As soon as we know what’s coming from the state, we will point our teachers in the right direction.” This year was the last year for the Florida Writes, and each district is awaiting the state’s decision about the type of writing that will be assessed. “Most of the late-start and early-release time this year was dedicated to unpacking the new argumentative writing standards, identifying instructional gaps, and analyzing the feedback drawn from practice Okaloosa Writes tests that aligned with the new Florida Standards. We want everyone to be ready.”

For more information about Okaloosa County School’s performance this year, go to http://www.okaloosaschools.com.