BRADENTON -- Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart congratulated teachers and students in Manatee County for gains on FCAT 2.0 Writing and 3rd Grade Reading and Math. Manatee Schools improved from 2013 in all five FCAT 2.0 assessment areas released on Friday. Most impressively, the school district made considerable progress in closing the learning gap with Title 1 schools showing vast improvement over previous scores.
“These impressive gains are the result of district leaders providing teachers with the tools and training they need to succeed,” said Commissioner Stewart. “I am confident that with new standards and assessments next year replacing the FCAT, our students will continue to succeed.”
Manatee was one of three counties Stewart singled out in a release, along with Citrus and Hillsborough. While the district continues to lag behind statewide averages, the rate at which it is closing the gap remains impressive, especially considering the significant budgetary challenges it has faced, amid a near-complete overhaul of the district administration in just the past year, after an interim administration helmed most of the previous school year.
Superintendent Rick Mills, who came on board just over a year ago, was thrilled by the progress.
"I'm just so proud of my team ... our teachers, students and schools, everyone," said Mills upon learning the results. "To make this kind of progress, while having to implement the kind of (budget) cuts we've seen, you just don't see that happen."
FCAT Writing is scored on a range of 1-6, with 6 representing the top level of achievement. A score of 3.5 is the state of Florida’s designated level of achievement. The FCAT Writing test is only given to students in 4th, 8th and 10th grades.
4th Grade writing scores increased 9 percentage points and beat the statewide average for the first time.
10th Grade writing was up seven percentage points, to close within 6 points of the statewide average. Manatee High School was among the leaders in making improvements as the percentage of 10th grade students scoring proficient or higher in writing improved by 40 points over a year ago. In 2013, only 23% of 10th graders at Manatee High scored proficient or higher, compared to 63% this year.
The percentage of Manatee County 8th graders scoring Level 3.5 or above was only 45%, up from 44% a year ago, but still 11 percent below the statewide average. The percentage of Manatee County students scoring proficient or higher did, however, increase in every grade level tested, and individual schools – especially Title 1 schools – made major gains this year.
Title 1 schools across the district improved, led by Myakka City Elementary, which increased its proficiency level 52 percentage points over a year ago, moving from 24% proficient in 2013 all the way to 76% this year. Palmetto and Moody Elementary Schools both increased their proficiency levels by 49 points, with Palmetto rising from only 11% in 2013, all the way to 60% in 2014, and Moody increasing from 40% to 89%.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Dianna Greene said she was "elated" with the results, particularly the Title 1 gains.
"It just warms my heart," said Dr. Greene. "We knew that the Title 1 schools took a big hit in the writing last year, so we addressed that area and put a plan in place that proved successful in just the first year. We created a boot camp for writing ... schools invested in resources, teachers implemented the training, and the students clearly responded."
Greene, who reiterated that Friday's scores were just the first wave of results and would be followed by additional releases from the state in coming weeks, said that good news was a welcome win for the district.
"I'm just so happy for our teachers, principals and students. With all that this district has been through in the last year, they maintained their focus on what we're really here for, which is striving to deliver the best education possible for all kids. It is just phenomenal."
In 3rd grade, the percentage of Manatee County students scoring proficient or higher increased in both reading and math. In addition, individual schools made dramatic improvements in one or both.
3rd Grade mathematics scores increased 5 percentage points, just 4 points below the statewide average. In 3rd Grade Reading, 51% of Manatee third graders scored Level 3 or above, a 2-point improvement that is 6 points below the state average.
At the individual school level, McNeal Elementary led the way by improving the percentage of students scoring Level 3 or higher by 23 percentage points in both Reading and Math. Other schools that showed significant improvements in Reading include Gullett and Willis Elementary Schools, which both increased their Level 3 or higher percentages by 19 points.
In Math, Tillman Elementary led the charge, increasing the percentage of students scoring Level 3 or higher by 24 points (35% in 2013, 54% in 2014). Willis Elementary improved by 23 points in Math and Ballard improved by 22 points.