Despite new "cut scores" and standards implemented for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for elementary and middle school students this year, the Lee County School District fared better than expected in its number of A and B schools.
Still the district dropped from an overall "A," to its first "B" since 2008.
Lee County joins districts across the state that saw their "A" grade drop to a "B", including Broward, Palm Beach and Charlotte counties. In 2011 the state had 30 districts earn an "A" grade; in 2012, using the new FCAT 2.0 measures, that number dropped to 14.
"As seen in student and school results, district grades across Florida dropped, including Lee County's, which went from an 'A' to a 'B,'" said Dr. Joseph Burke, superintendent of schools, in a prepared statement issued Friday. "We knew FCAT 2.0 was going to result in a slight drop in academic performance, but we are very confident that our student and school grades will start to climb and so, too, will the District's. We're ready to do the hard work to ensure our students perform at the highest levels."
At the school-by-school level, the district anticipated a drop from last year's collective A and B tally of 90 percent to 76 percent, but earned a better-than-expected overall average of 79 percent.
"We performed better than anticipated in Lee County," said Burke, who held a press conference Wednesday at the Lee County Public Education Center to discuss the school-by-school grades for the 2011-2012 school year. "These scores reflect new standards and cut scores."
The district overall score had not yet been released.
The state saw an overall decline pattern with A and B school grades for elementary and middle schools, Burke said, adding 365 schools dropped from an A or B school grade as a consequence of the standards and cut scores that the Florida Department of Education changed on the FCAT statewide.
The reduction of A and B schools was a reflection of the decision the state board had made under the premise that the number of A and B schools was too high and something needed to be done, Burke said.
The decline then was a reflection of the number of students who received a level 3 or higher on their FCAT scores under the new standards.
Burke said when the state board made changes in the middle of the year regarding the scores and standards, they also decided to also incorporate a stop gap measure, which would save schools from dropping two letter grades. Twenty schools in the Lee County School District were saved from dropping two letter grades this year. Burke said 388 schools statewide were saved from dropping two letter grades.
In Lee County, there were 34, or 45.3 percent, schools that received an A grade and 25, or 33.3 percent, elementary and middle schools that received a B grade.
"It clearly indicates we are on track," Burke said, adding that they still obviously want to do better.
The district has a goal of 90 percent of the schools receiving an A or B school grade for the upcoming school year.
Thirty schools in the district kept their A grade, while Edison Park, Tanglewood Elementary and Six Mile Charter School increased their school grade from a B to an A.
Burke said the largest impact for the schools that dropped from an A to a B is the funding they will no longer receive for accomplishing that grade. The funding, which comes from the state, typically goes to the teachers of that A school, he said.
"Those schools will not have money available if not an A school," Burke said.
Although there are no F elementary or middle schools in the district, there are four D schools compared to one last year. Those schools include Franklin Park, Tice Elementary, Fort Myers Middle School and James Stephens Int'l Academy.
"The leaders in those schools have a huge challenge," Burke said.
He said they are going to look intensely at the indicating factors of why the four schools received a D. Burke said there is a great need to pay attention to what needs to happen for these schools to increase their grades.
A districtwide math program will be implemented, Burke said, to help the schools in the district improve their FCAT scores, which in turn with affect their school grades. Math is a targeted area because it experienced the least growth.
With a 79 percent average, Lee County Public Schools ranked second amongst the 10 largest districts in Florida.
"It is gratifying that we did well against other districts," Burke said. Second is a good place for us to be."
Brevard came in first with 92 percent of their schools receiving an A or B school grade.
The other schools that are ranked among the top 10 include Palm Beach with 76 percent of the schools receiving an A or B grade; Orange County with 73 percent; Broward County with 69 percent; Dade County with 67 percent; Pinellas County with 62 percent; Hillsborough County with 58 percent; Duval County with 55 percent and Polk County with 52 percent.
Only 69 percent of schools statewide received an A or B school grade for the 2011-2012 school year.
"Overall I am happy," Burke said about Lee County's grades. "I think we did a little better than our own predictions."
Due to graduation rates, advanced placement and International Baccalaureate courses, among a few other contributing factors, school grades for high school will be released in the fall.