CRESTVIEW -- Okaloosa Schools are back near the head of the pack among Florida’s 67 counties, Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson said.
Almost every grade level moved up in state rankings in reading and math, and all grades — third 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 (fifth through eighth).
'We had work to do'
For the past few years, Okaloosa County FCAT results have shown a declining pattern.
“We knew we had work to do ... and I wanted to support our teachers who have worked tirelessly this year to get the job done," Jackson said.
Blended standards and rigorous teacher evaluations added pressures.
“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 (or NGSS)," Jackson said. "We had to start talking to our teachers about the instructional shifts while making sure that NGSS were still being addressed.
'Payoff is clear'
Marcus Chambers, assistant superintendent of curriculum, attributes the rise to 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.”
The fifth grade saw losses in reading and math, while the fourth grade moved from 17th to 27th in the state for math.
“At first glance, it looks like a loss," Jackson said. "More important than comparing last year’s fifth grade to this year’s fifth 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, fifth-grade students actually performed better than they did as fourth-graders a year ago in both reading and math — from 11th to eighth in the state for reading and 17th to eighth in the state for math.”
'Strong plan in place'
“Our scores are starting to rise again, and we have a strong plan in place as we move forward," Chambers said.
District officials will continue to meet with principals throughout the summer, and a new School Performance Plan, or SPP, will be put into place. Each school’s SPP will help teachers shift toward new statewide assessments for English/language arts and math, officials said.
The 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," Chambers said. "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.”
There is still work to do, officials said.
“Elementary math will be a focus for our district, and we’re going to continue professional development that supports our progress in writing," Chambers said.
Eighth and 10th grades showed significant improvements in writing; eighth grade moved from 35th in the state to 18th while 10th grade went from 21st to 11th.
This was the last year for the Florida Writes program, and each district awaits the state’s decision about the type of writing that will be assessed.