South Florida third-graders reading better
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.
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