by KATHRYN DENTATO
Hernando Sun Reporter
The percentage decrease in third graders passing the FSA reading assessment for the 2018-2019 school year will be addressed by district staff in a number of ways in the upcoming school year. The numbers were discussed in detail and specific strategies for reading instruction and training were presented at the school board workshop on June 11, 2019.
Education Advocate Pam Everett has been in contact with Superintendent Stratton on behalf of the parents of children who did not pass the FSA. They are seeking the opportunity to use state approved alternative testing for their children, specifically the SAT 10.
Executive Director of Academic Services Gina Michalicka, Supervisor of Assessment and Accountability Linda Peirce, and Coordinator of Program Evaluation Sonsee Sanders met with the School Board at the workshop to discuss and answer questions about the recent 3rd Grade FSA reading scores.
Michalicka said she met with principals to briefly discuss the recently released scores. By July, she will meet with them again to review the plans for next year.
Peirce reviewed handouts comparing Hernando County scores of students reaching a level 3 with the state averages. In every year of testing beginning with 2015, Hernando County has scored higher than the state by a slim margin. This year, 2019, saw the first score below the state average.
Peirce said that when comparing scores among the elementary schools, they also look at the percentage and numbers of students who score at level 1, as students must score at level 2 to be promoted to the 4th grade.
The district had 327 of 1772 third grade students who scored at level 1, which is 18%, compared to the state average of 20%. Last year’s district score was 16%. Four schools showed improvement over last year, reflected by a percentage drop of level 1 students. Peirce said that 80% of students who repeated third grade showed a learning gain, and 69% of those students increased their achievement level by reaching level 2 or level 3.
Michalicka explained that when a student scores at level 1, it indicates a reading deficit that requires an immediate intervention. The student likely was demonstrating that deficit already; the test only confirmed it. For a student to make no gains in the second year, Michalicka said the student may have a learning disability and is receiving not only tiered support but assistance based on the specific disability. Teachers try to discover the “why” and problem solve to help the child.
Students who score level 1 the second year are now two years behind in reading, which has a snowball effect. Peirce said additional data on those students having previous or multiple retentions from K-2nd grade show the significant impact of the learning gap. “It’s even more dismaying,” she said.
Hernando County has a very high retention rate for Kindergarten. The same students who were identified as 11% “not literacy ready” for Kindergarten are the same 20% showing little or no gains in reading this year.
The use of iReady did help 59% of the students who initially scored at level 1. While not reading at grade level, they did show some improvement.
Different categories (clusters) on the test are also evaluated to see where students performed better. These are compared to the state scores once they are released. Peirce will also look at trends, reviewing data from previous years. It can also be an evaluation tool for teachers to see where they need to focus.
Michalicka said that the support plan for the K-2 levels will include LETRS training for K-1 teachers during the 2019-2020 school year. Teachers may need specific instruction on how to teach reading to K-1 students with online and face-to-face coursework. LETRS stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling.
The reason is to help teachers who did not receive these courses in college. At the end of the course teachers will receive a Reading Endorsement. District administrators and coaches, including Michalicka and Superintendent John Stratton, will receive the training which will become a requirement for all teachers, but is being offered first to the K-1 teachers. The following year, 2nd and 3rd grade teachers will take the course.
Footsteps to Brilliance app promotes literacy skills even at a toddler age. While the district is working to get funding through a grant, Michalicka said that five schools will pilot the program for the 2019-2020 year. The goal is to obtain community support so that every family has access to the program.
Five Title I PreK classes are being added and partnering with Kindergarten classes in a vertical learning plan. Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS) is another tool that Michalicka said they use to identify student learning gaps and begin to address those right away.
Another support is for the Early Learning Coalition (ELC) to partner with two elementary schools. Teachers in private VPK programs will be matched with Kindergarten teachers so they can see the expectations for the PreK students entering Kindergarten.
Michalicka said the final plan is to give support to Cusp Students, those who have been identified through iReady as being close to or are predicted to become level 3s. Consistency in the Reading block is a focus point for next year.
In July, principals will receive professional development on what a good Reading lesson plan looks like, with a rollout of the training to elementary schools throughout the 2019-2020 school year.
Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) is helpful for the 20% of students who need it; however, if the core instruction in the classroom is good, there may not be a need for MTSS, Michalicka said. Pulling students from the classroom to learn the skills may be beneficial, she continued, but students need to use the skills in text and on grade level, not just in isolation.
Michalicka summarized the ways the district supports those students with a substantial Reading deficit. Families are made aware of the deficit and how the MTSS system can help. Methodical, intensive interventions begin. Data chats between the district and schools, and between the schools and families monitor progress, and teachers receive professional development.
The recent focus of professional development for FSA has been on writing. Reading has received less attention. Michalicka said the focus will be consistency in the reading block. It’s important to show the connection between Reading and Comprehension before introducing writing, she said.
Consistency in professional development will also make a difference, so that the same message is being shared at all schools.
Board member Kay Hatch thanked Michalicka for the commitment of her team. Linda Prescott expressed concern at the higher number of students who are not reading at grade level. She thinks the plan outlined by Michalicka will make a difference for the students.
Jimmy Lodato took a different view, saying that the scores until this year were consistently good. This year’s scores were an anomaly, he said. Prescott said the change seemed to happen across the state as well.
“Out of challenges comes reflection and opportunities,” Board Chair Susan Duval said to Michalicka.
While administration prepares for changes in teaching methods, some parents of children who did not pass the FSA would like to use a different evaluation for their child’s reading proficiency.
Pam Everett, an education advocate, brought the issue to Superintendent Stratton.
“Some Hernando County parents of children who did not pass the Third Grade FSA Reading are being told by the district that, in Hernando, only i-Ready may be used for Good Cause Exemption in order to be promoted to Fourth Grade.”
She points to page 50 of the 2018-2019 Hernando County School District Student Progression Plan (SPP) where a list of conditions is provided in which a Good Cause Exemption could be granted in order to promote the student to 4th grade. One condition being,
“c. Students who demonstrate an acceptable level of performance on an alternative standardized reading assessment approved by the State Board of Education;”
Everett states, “The Hernando SPP does not list any specific test(s), nor does it preclude the SAT10 (Stanford Achievement Test), which IS one of the 10 state-approved alternative assessments, which also includes a student portfolio, the state’s test portfolio OR a report card. And yet, “Hernando does not use the SAT10 as an alternative assessment for good cause exemption.”
Everett asked Superintendent Stratton about the specific district policy which precludes the use of SAT 10 and whether the district could accept SAT 10 if the parent had the test administered by a third party.
“If the district will not administer the SAT10, and if a parent were to have their child take the SAT10 privately, with a reputable testing company, such as Seton Testing, and the test results were submitted directly to the school or to the district (an arms length transaction), not going through the parent, and if the child receives a passing score (45th percentile), as both state statute and district SPP permit, what is Hernando Schools’ rationale for not accepting it?”
Everett remarks, “I do not believe that any school wants to retain children who do not demonstrate a reading deficiency. To do so, would be a disservice to those students, as well as draining scarce resources, which should be used to support children who actually need intervention services.”
Executive Director of Academic Services, Mrs. Gina Michalicka will be looking into the concerns Ms. Everett brought forward.
Another possible avenue of promotion is the student portfolio. Listed under conditions for a Good Cause Exemption on page 50 of the district’s student progression plan is also:
“d. Students who demonstrate, through a student portfolio, that they are reading at least Level 2 on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), as evidenced by demonstrating mastery of applicable state standards in reading 19;Refer to Academic Portfolio for Good Cause Exemption (#4) section.”
In summary, the percentage of students earning a 2 or higher on the FSA dropped for the 2018-2019 school year. Parents of children who did not score well on the FSA are seeking other state approved methods to prove their child’s readiness for fourth grade. The school district meanwhile prepares to make changes for the 2019-2020 school year with specific strategies geared toward reading improvements.
Julie Maglio contributed to this report.