Washington County preserves district’s B grade

Two years after the Washington County Schools were forced to shut down and transform themselves due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school is once again a B school, and leaders there are pleased.

“The designation of a B for the district grade is a testament to the dedication and continuous efforts of administration, school personnel, and students,” wrote the district in a news release. “Overall performance is similar to the 2019 assessment administration, prior to COVID concerns and the challenges of distance and hybrid learning. Growth in proficiency and learning gains is evident in many areas compared to last year’s performance.”

The grade is the district’s fourth consecutive B, following a string of Cs in the first half of the last decade.

“Overall we feel really good about our schools’ performances and our kids getting back to school and showing what they know,” said Becky Dickson, the district’s director of assessment and accountability.”

The one school to raise its grade. Vernon Elementary, went from a C to a B, while Chipley High School, Vernon High School, and Roulhac Middle School all stayed at a B. Vernon Middle School remained as a C school while Kate Smith Elementary fell from a B to a C. Washington Academy of Varying Exceptionalities (WAVE) achieved the highest school improvement rating of Commendable.

Vernon Elementary’s raising of its letter grade appeared to a strong degree due to its ability to see 65 percent of its overall student body make learning gains in English and Language Arts, and the same percentage of its lowest performing students seeing gains. Both percentages were the highest percentage making learning gains throughout the district.

Kate Smith Elementary and Roulhac paced the district in terms of Mathematics achievement, both better than 60 percent, with better than half the student bodies of both schools making learning gains.

“Despite the challenges our students and teachers have faced, our students in Washington County performed admirably. I am proud of their efforts and we are looking to the future to continue improvements” said Superintendent of Schools Joe Taylor.

The 2021-22 school grades mark the first full school grade data release since 2019 due to the lack of assessments in the 2019-20 school year and the opt-in nature of the 2020-21 school grades.

The Florida Department of Education examines 11 categories, many directly related to the Spring 2022 test results of the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment), Statewide Science Assessment, and the EOC (End of Course) exams. These tests include the FSA English Language Arts (grades 3-10); FSA Math (grades 3-8); Statewide Science Assessment (grades 5 and 8); and EOC exams in Biology, Algebra 1, Geometry, Civics, and U.S. History.

In a news release last week, the Florida Department of Education said that schools statewide exceeded expectations. “The FDOE applauds the hard work of Florida’s students, parents, teachers and school leaders as their collective efforts to support student achievement resulted in school grades that defied conventional wisdom and established a foundation for further closing achievement gaps,” it read.

The release pointed to 53 schools exiting the School Improvement Support list in 2022, and said every school graded an F in 2019 improved their grades in 2022, including one that earned a B and six that earned a C.

More than four out of five schools graded D and F in 2019 improved their grades in 2022.

Overall, elementary schools had the largest increase in the percentage of schools increasing their grade with 20 percent improving one or more letter grade.

“From Spring 2021 to Spring 2022, it’s clear that our teachers and school leaders used every resource at their disposal to lift Florida’s students well beyond expectations,” said Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. “We know that these results are thanks to policies that kept schools open and kept kids in the classroom, which has been widely recognized as critical to student achievement.”

State Board of Education Chair Tom Grady echoed Diaz’s position that the test results, student growth, achievement gap closure and school-wide achievements “validate Florida’s approach to get our schools open first and return to normalcy as quickly as possible.”

State Board of Education Member Monesia T. Brown said in the release that less than a year ago, the data showed that nearly 1,500 elementary schools would require additional literacy supports and over 800 schools would likely be placed on the School Improvement Support list.

“Today, with these results reflecting 168 schools placed on the School Improvement Support list, we are extremely pleased to see our schools rise to the challenge and exceed conventional wisdom,” Brown said.

The release said that statewide, when results are examined for the 2020-21 school year, when grades were optional but could be determined based on assessment results, there were several improvements achieved in the subsequent 2021-22 school year.

The number of schools receiving an F was significantly lower than expected, read the release, from 244 projected schools to 30 schools..

The number of “D” or “F” schools has declined 65 percent since 2015 and the number of “F” schools has declined 85 percent since 2015.

Florida’s most vulnerable students at our most fragile schools continue to beat the odds by increasing student performance, read the release, noting that schools supported by the Bureau of School Improvement continue to see success year after year. Among the schools receiving state support in 2021-22, 70 percent improved their performance and exited state support. Of the 25 schools implementing a State Board of Education-approved Turnaround plan, 80 percent exited Turnaround by earning a 2022 grade of C or higher.