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Challenging year brings lower test scores

By Staff | May 31, 2018

Third grade reading scores were lower than hoped, but the School District of Lee County faced a challenging school year, including a record number of out-of-class days due to Hurricane Irma, officials said this week.

“The hurricane caused a high rate of mobility and a lack of home life stability for many of our children,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins in a prepared statement regarding student scores on the Grade 3 Florida Standards Assessments English Language Arts assessment. “Although we want our children to be successful academically, our first priority is to provide a safe environment for social and emotional growth. With standards based learning, we recognize that children learn at varying paces.”

Dr. Richard Itzen, director of Accountability, Research and Improvement, agreed, stating the district did not do as well as officials there had wanted to or expected.

“We held our own giving our challenging year,” he said.

Executive Director of Student Development Shanna Flecha said the school district had great momentum starting off the school year, especially for elementary school students.

Unfortunately, with students out 12 days because of Hurricane Irma, it took the little ones a little longer to get back into the swing of things.

“We have never been out for that many days in the history of our school district,” Flecha said. “It’s pretty devastating to lose that much of instructional time. We had to restart school again after the hurricane. We still have families suffering after it,” Flecha said.

Although teaching and learning is always a huge priority for students, Flecha said they also had to amplify the safety of their students.

The English Language Arts third grade test, a reading test, scores the assessment from 1 to 5.

“The state statue says that if you score in level 1, you will be retained unless you qualify for a good cause exemption,” Itzen said, adding that retention for level 1 readers began in 2003.

Retention decisions are not completely decided yet for the 2017-2018 third grade class because students have the opportunity to attend a Third Grade Summer Reading Camp, helping them move on to fourth grade based on their summer camp performance, he explained.

Flecha said students who attend not only receive additional instruction in reading, they have another chance to pass an alternative assessment at the end of summer camp.

“Summer camp is reading standards that students are expected to achieve before moving to fourth grade,” Flecha said. “They go four days a week. It’s a state mandate that we do that as well, provide them with another opportunity.”

Itzen said the state tries to return the third grade reading scores first, so school districts can take some action with the summer camp.

Generally the school district has between 7,200 and 7,500 students taking the third grade reading assessment test every year. Over the past four years, 19 to 21 percent of those students score at a level, Itzen said.

Level 1 is significantly below grade level,

“That has been right around the state average,” he said.

This year, 20 percent of the district’s third grade students scored at a level 1.

“We have 20 percent of students scoring in level 1. Last year that was approximately 1,450 students. Approximately 67 percent of them were good cause exemptions,” Itzen said.

“Good cause exemptions” are applied for children with special needs, such as a diagnosed learning disability.

There were 7,282 students who took the statewide standardized assessment this year. Fifty-five percent received a level 3 or above, compared to the state average of 57 percent.

Twenty percent scored at a level one, the same as the state average; 25 percent scored at a level 2, still below level, compared to the state’s average of 23 percent; 29 percent scored an at-level 3, the same as the state average; 18 percent scored at a level 4, compared to the state’s average of 20 percent and 8 percent scored at a level 5, compared to the state’s average of 9 percent.

Itzen explained that two-thirds of the students qualifying for a good cause exemption are English Language learners, students diagnosed with a disabilities, students maintaining a good portfolio showing they are good readers, as well as a couple of academic options if they score a particular score on alternative testing.

If students have already been retained twice, anytime during their kindergarten, first, or second grade years, they do not have to be retained again, according to Itzen.

Itzen said giving the challenging year with the disruption of Hurricane Irma in the fall, they thought the students came out OK.

“If you look at the scores across the state you will see a good two-thirds of the districts declined in their scores,” he said of students scoring in a level 3 or above.

The district compares itself to the 10 largest districts in Florida when looking at testing scores.

“We are about right in the middle, about No. 5 with students scoring a 3 or higher,” he said.

There were some success stories with this year’s Grade 3 Florida Standards Assessments English Language Arts assessment, according to Flecha. Cape Elementary School, for example, had an increase of 6 percent of their students scoring a 3 or higher.

“Cape Elementary had the most growth out of the elementary schools in the West Zone from last year to this year,” she said.

Other successes occurred at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts with a 5 percent increase, Caloosa Elementary with a 3 percent increase, Tice Elementary School saw a 12 percent increase and San Carlos Elementary School saw a 11 percent increase.

The district is continuously looking at ways to help its students improve their scores.

They are implementing a districtwide K-12 curriculum map to help lay out standards for students to master throughout the year, Flecha said. Within the map is an instructional guide that will help provide framework for teachers, as well as what they should do if a student is or is not mastering the standard to continue to move forward.

A comprehensive reading plan was also released this past Friday for all teachers K-12.

“We are excited about those initiatives,” Flecha said.