Holmes County just misses a B

The Holmes County Schools were a whisker away from being a B district, and may file an appeal with the state to see if they can find that single point somewhere to earn it that next grade higher.

But for now, Superintendent Buddy Brown is pleased to see improvement at every school in the district, and the district’s best showing in the past 10 years, when it has been consistently a C district.

“We are looking at a couple of areas we may file an appeal in, and there’s an outside chance,” he said. “We can live with a high C that we got. It gives us a very good picture.

“With COVID we had a high number of kids doing a distance learning model and we didn’t get a grade for those kids,” Brown said, noting that better than half were performing at grade level or better.

“If I get a grade for virtual school, there’s a possibility but we’re not going to hang our hats on it,” he said. “We’re happy with the upward trend but we’re not satisfied with the results we have at this time. We expect more out of students and teachers and expect more out of our district.”

The superintendent said administrators and teachers are examining closely the details at the classroom and teacher levels, in contrast with what he believes had not been enough effort in that regard. “We had got away from how the data worked and how it can be used to improve student achievement,” he said. “Across the district we saw improvement at every school and that tells us we’re moving in the right direction.”

While no school dropped a letter grade, Bethlehem and Holmes County high schools, and Bonifay Kindergarten through 8th grade, all remained as Cs. Poplar Springs High School remained a B.

The biggest achievement was seen at Ponce de Leon elementary and high school, with each school rising from a C to a B.

“We’re very proud of those two schools, they put a lot of effort into it,” said Brown.

He said an examination of the test results show that there are areas in the district that are struggling with math. “We need to put some supports in to help rookie teachers,” he said.

Brown said that across the board the district saw a large percentage of students showing a year of growth, and that included the lowest performing students.

“We saw a lot of that, what we did not see the previous year during COVID,” he said. “We saw growth from last year. Anything less than a B next year will be a disappointment.

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.

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