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Updated: District retains a ‘B’ grade. Keller falls to ‘D’

The Baker County school district kept its overall B grade and the middle school remains an A school, according to school and district grades released by the Florida Department of Education June 30.

Keller Intermediate, however, fell two letter grades to become a D school for the first time since 2001-02.

The decline came in part because not enough low-performing students made reading gains on the 2011 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, administered last spring.

“Keller does a lot of good things academically … But there’s a select population that doesn’t perform well,” explained the school district’s director of accountability and testing, Susan Voorhees.

The state requires that at least 50 percent of students scoring in the bottom 25 percent in reading and math make gains within two year’s time. Schools failing to meet the requirement are penalized one letter grade.

This year 42 percent of the low-performing students at Keller made gains in reading and 54 percent made gains in math. Last year 46 percent showed reading gains and 56 percent showed math gains.

“It’s not an easy thing to take,” said Ms. Voorhees. “You would like to get the grade that you earned.”

Keller was labeled a B school last year.

Ms. Voorhees attributed the dip in the school’s FCAT performance to the more rigorous version of the test, the so-called FCAT 2.0, administered to students statewide for the first time this year.

She also said that because a high number of students in the bottom quartile arrive at Keller with just below-average scores, it’s more difficult to show improvement than if a student arrived with very low scores.

“It’s not an excuse, but that’s an extra challenge … ,” Ms. Voorhees said. “They’re coming in stronger academically, so they’re harder to move. It’s a good problem to have.”

The middle school, meanwhile, earned its fifth consecutive A grade, which is a difficult standard to maintain, according to the testing director.

“You have to move the bottom quartile every year … These teachers are taking the same struggling students and moving them, and moving them and moving them,” she said.

To achieve A status, schools must also make gains in reading and math at every grade level.

“There’s no averaging to make it look good,” said Ms. Voorhees.

Maintaining the A grade makes the school eligible for some $70 more in per-student funding from the state. More than 1100 schools in Florida kept their A grades this year.

But unlike most districts’ elementary schools with kindergarten through fifth grades, Baker County has two K-3 schools and Keller, a school of fourth and fifth graders. Keller, however, is the only elementary school the state gives a grade.

As a result, Ms. Voorhees said, to the best of her knowledge, the record-high FCAT scores at Westside and Macclenny elementary schools this year weren’t used in calculating the district’s overall grade.

“If they did, the data would put us at an A,” she said. “Every other district we know of gets the benefit of their third grade data, but we don’t.”

Superintendent Sherrie Raulerson has been investigating ways in which the district could receive credit for the third grade results.

The state’s grade for the high school, which is based on graduation rates, advance coursework and other factors, is expected in December.

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