A record number of PBC elementary schools are on Florida’s “Low 300” list

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A record number of Palm Beach County schools have fallen onto the state’s list of the 300 elementary schools with the lowest reading scores in Florida, meaning more than $2 million in extra costs for the county’s public schools as educators extend the school day on more campuses.

The number of county public schools on Florida’s “Low 300” list jumped from 20 last year to 29 this year even though reading scores improved overall countywide. The schools on this year’s list include 27 school district-operated schools and two charter schools.

The spike is forcing the school district to shift money away from planned raises for teachers and other employees, administrators say. By law, the 300 schools with the lowest reading scores statewide are required to extend the school day to provide extra reading time, which requires extra stipends for teachers.

The district estimates the extended days will cost $2.5 million more than last year because the number of affected schools grew.

Last year a school district study found that in the program’s first three years, extended-day schools in most cases showed little or no significant progress, raising questions about the effectiveness of the extra reading time.

>> RELATED: Extra classes doing little to help Palm Beach County’s weakest readers

With the number of Low 300 schools falling in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Palm Beach County now has more schools on the Low 300 list than any other Florida county besides Hillsborough.

Overall, reading scores improved in the county’s schools last year. But those improvements were not across the board.

Many elementary schools saw their students’ performance worsen significantly, including 16 schools that fell onto this year’s Low 300 list after not being on it last year.

Eight district-operated schools on last year’s Low 300 list improved slightly but not enough to move off the list this year.

Three district-operated schools that had been on last year’s list performed worse despite the extended school day: Barton Elementary, Rolling Green Elementary, and Belle Glade Elementary.

And in a sign of rising achievement across the state, one school that wasn’t on last year’s list – Westgate Elementary – fell onto the list this year even though its reading performance improved slightly.

By far, the two lowest-performing county schools on the list were both charter schools: Belle Glade Excel Charter School, where test scores showed just 6 percent of students were reading on grade level, and Learning Path Academy, where just 11 percent of students scored on grade level.

Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said it was difficult to point to a single cause for the spike in schools on the state’s list but said that the county has long struggled with raising reading achievement for elementary students.

“That is something that we are concerned about,” he said. “The third grade (language arts exam) has been our soft spot, but we are doing well in math and science.”

He pointed out that the state’s Low 300 list – now in its fourth year – is based solely on reading scores, and the county’s elementary students have seen stronger growth in math and science. When those scores are considered, he said, the county does much better relative to other Florida school districts.

Indeed, one school on the Low 300 list, Lake Park Elementary, earned a B grade from the state this year.

>> RELATED: High costs, few benefits to longer days at struggling PBC schools

The state creates its Low 300 list by adding together the percentage of students earning a proficient score on the state language arts exam and the percentage of students making significant gains on the exam, then ranking each elementary school based on that figure. The lowest 300 schools statewide end up on the state list.

The Legislature implemented the extended-day rule in 2012 in an attempt to guarantee that students in schools with the biggest reading challenges would receive more reading instruction.

Initially set up for the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools, it was expanded for the 2014-15 school year to the bottom 300 schools.

The program has been criticized by some educators as costly and ineffective.

It requires nearly all students at the affected schools to stay in school for an extra hour, even most students already reading on grade level. Educators say that makes it more difficult for them to target the weakest readers.

The program also does nothing for struggling readers at schools that don’t happen to fall onto the list.

In the program’s first few years, the county extended the school day by a full hour at Low 300 schools.

But in a cost-saving move administrators decided last year extend the school day by a half-hour instead. The half-hour extensions will continue this year.

 

Palm Beach County schools on the “Low 300” list

WEST RIVIERA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

BARTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

K. E. CUNNINGHAM/CANAL POINT ELEMENTARY

SOUTH GRADE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

HIGHLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

ROLLING GREEN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

PLEASANT CITY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

PALM SPRINGS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

PAHOKEE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

GOVE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

BELLE GLADE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

LINCOLN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

ROOSEVELT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

PIONEER PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

NORTHMORE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

BENOIST FARMS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

GALAXY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

PINE GROVE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

LAKE PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

ROSENWALD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

DR. MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE ELEMENTARY

STARLIGHT COVE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

HOPE-CENTENNIAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

PALMETTO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

WEST GATE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

BELVEDERE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

GROVE PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

BELLE GLADE EXCEL CHARTER SCHOOL

LEARNING PATH ACADEMY

 

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