South Florida third-graders read­ing bet­ter

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Scott Travis, Caitlin R. McGlade and Les­lie Postal Staff writ­ers See READ­ING, 12A

South Florida’s third-graders scored bet­ter on the state’s key read­ing exam this year than last, mir­ror­ing an in­crease seen across Florida.

The per­cent­age of third-graders scor­ing well on the lan­guage arts por­tion of the Florida Stan­dards As­sess­ment was 57 per­cent in Broward County, up from 55 per­cent last year. In Palm Beach County, the pro­fi­ciency rate went from 52 per­cent to 54 per­cent, while it in­creased from 54 per­cent to 58 per­cent in Mi­ami-Dade.

Statewide, 58 per­cent of stu­dents did well, up from54 per­cent last year.

The FSA lan­guage arts test is a key one for third-graders in pub­lic school. Florida law says those who score very poorly

— earn­ing a level 1 score on the five-level exam— can be held back. The state re­leases the test re­sults ear­lier than other re­sults so schools can make de­ci­sions about whether to pro­mote stu­dents be­fore the school year ends.

Some schools that have his­tor­i­cally strug­gled in Broward were among those that im­proved the most.

Take Plan­ta­tion El­e­men­tary, for ex­am­ple, where just 20 per­cent of the third­graders passed read­ing in 2015. That im­proved to 28 per­cent last year and 56 per­cent this year.

Broward School Board mem­ber Ros­alind Os­good at­trib­uted the progress to a new fo­cus on lit­er­acy and the in­tro­duc­tion of so­cial work­ers at the school.

“If I’m hun­gry, I don’t care how smart I am, it’s go­ing to be hard for me to learn,” she said.

So at Plan­ta­tion, a spe­cial­ist now pulls aside kids who are strug­gling and works with them one on one. An out­side or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Chil­dren’s Lit­er­acy Ini­tia­tive works with the classes to make read­ing more fun, she said. Broward is one of a hand­ful of dis­tricts in the na­tion try­ing the pro­gram.

Thedis­trict has tried­new pro­grams at strug­gling schools, such as at Walker El­e­men­tary, where stu­dents now learn ev­ery­thing through a lens of art.

This has helped nudge the school’s third-grade pass­ing rate in English Lan­guage Arts from 14 per­cent last year to 27 per­cent among third-graders, she said.

A mi­nor­ity of schools fared far worse, how­ever. Al­though about 59 per­cent of Da­nia El­e­men­tary third­graders were pro­fi­cient in English lan­guage arts last year, just 30 per­cent did well this year. The school was A-rated in 2015, but dropped to a B in 2016. Va­lerie Wanza, chief school per­for­mance & ac­count­abil­ity of­fi­cer, said district staff “have not yet drilled downto the specifics” to de­ter­minewhy.

In Palm Beach County, some schools that made big drops in­cluded High­land El­e­men­tary in Lake Worth, where third-grade read­ing pro­fi­ciency dropped from 32 per­cent to 18 per­cent; Pa­ho­kee El­e­men­tary (34 per­cent to 14 per­cent) and Pine Grove El­e­men­tary (31 to 16 per­cent).

“We’re look­ing into what hap­pened at th­ese schools,” said David Chris­tiansen, deputy su­per­in­ten­dent for the district.

As in Broward, those schools are in the mi­nor­ity. Just about 18 per­cent of el­e­men­tary schools in Palm Beach County dropped more than 3 per­cent­age points when com­pared to last year.

Wash­ing­ton El­e­men­tary, which­was F-rated last year, made one of the big­gest third-grade read­ing gains in the district, im­prov­ing its pro­fi­ciency rate from17 per­cent last year to 46 per­cent this year.

Third-grade read­ing has been a pri­or­ity over the past year for Palm Beach County schools, since it’s been one of the few ar­eas in which the district un­der­per­forms the state and other South Florida coun­ties, Chris­tiansen said. The district started us­ing i-Ready soft­ware, which tracks how­stu­dents are do­ing at any mo­ment in time. That helped the district con­tin­u­ally mon­i­tor whether stu­dents were mak­ing progress.

The district also re­duced the num­ber of district ad­min­is­tra­tors to al­lo­cate more money into schools with large amounts of poverty, re­gard­less of how well they per­formed. In the past, the district poured money into D- and F-rated schools but then re­duced funds once their grades im­proved, of­fi­cials said.

Other schools that made big gains in­clude the Con­ser­va­tory School at North Palm Beach (42 per­cent to 58per­cent); Ha­genRoad­Ele­men­tary, west of Boyn­ton Beach (47 to 66 per­cent); Ben Gamla Palm Beach char­ter school (64 per­cent to 80 per­cent); Gar­dens School of Tech­nol­ogy and Arts (48 per­cent to 71 per­cent); and Re­nais­sance Char­ter School at Cy­press in­WestPalmBeach (29 per­cent to 47 per­cent).

But while Palm Beach County third-graders im­proved, so did stu­dents in most large dis­tricts in the state, keep­ing the district be­lowthe state av­er­age.

“We’ve got to con­tinue to im­prove. We’re notOKwith the fact we’re be­low the state,” Chris­tiansen said.

Orlando Sentinel staff writer Les­lie Postal con­tributed to this re­port.

stravis@sun­sen­tinel.com, 561-243-6637 or Twit­ter @sm­travis

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