54 percent of PBC 3 grade pass state reading test – and that’s an improvement

Palm Beach County’s third graders have made gains on Florida’s statewide reading exam, but they still aren’t passing at the rates of their peers across the state and almost half didn’t pass and will have to prove themselves in order to be promoted to fourth grade.

The school district landed a 54 percent passing rate on what is known as the Florida Standards Assessment of English language arts, a two point gain over last year that still leaves it short of the improved state average of 58 percent, according to data released Friday by the state’s Department of Education.

The test is a gatekeeper to fourth grade, and state officials said they released the scores early so that districts can make promotion decisions and plan summer camps for students who didn’t pass.

While the exam is the primary route to promotion, the state allows schools to consider other material when they decide a student’s fate.

Students can be promoted if a portfolio of their work indicates they are proficient enough to move on. They can also be promoted based on scores from other tests, including the computer-based diagnostics of iReady, a tool now used in classrooms across the county.

Of more than 130 elementary schools in the county, including charter schools, 16 had passing rates at or under 25 percent.  That includes four of seven traditional public elementary schools in the Glades communities and several other schools outside that region with high poverty rates.

Pahokee Elementary turned in the poorest performance in a district-run traditional school, with only 14 percent passing.  That’s down 20 percent from last year – the biggest drop in any school passing rate.

Click here to read our full report.

 

Choice, charters leave several PBC middle schools half empty

 

Dwindling enrollment at Odyssey Middle in Boynton Beach imperiled the school, and has now put it on a track to closure. But it isn’t the only school in the district that can’t fill even half its seats – and most of those schools are middle schools.

(See story on the school board meeting that is clearing path for Odyssey closure here. )

Why is that? 

One big reason: Parents of middle schoolers choose not to send them to their assigned schools and they make this choice more often than parents of elementary or high schools students, according to the district’s numbers.

Of 42,269  students in grades 6-8,  nearly one-third choose to attend a choice program at a school other than their home school or a charter school.

 

Here are three examples of how this plays out, with data supplied from the district’s boundaries department as of the February head count.

Carver Middle, Delray Beach

820 students attend the school built for 1,534

1,317 students live in the boundaries

175 of those attend charters; 448 attend another school in the district

113 come to Carver from outside the boundaries for reasons such as its magnet program or special education services

 

 

Congress Middle, Boynton Beach

Congress Middle

887 students attend the school built for 1,432

1,462 students live in its boundaries

428 of those attend charter schools; 328 attend another school in the district

159 students come to Congress from outside its boundaries

Crestwood Middle, Royal Palm Beach

750 students in a school build for 1,653

1,232 students live in its boundaries

229 students attend charter schools; 336 attend another school in the district.

 

The district is home to 33 middle schools. Others that are struggling to fill their desks: 

Bear Lakes Middle 49 percent of capacity

Carver 53 percent

Congress 62 percent

Crestwood 45 percent

John F. Kennedy 53 percent

Lake Shore Middle 47 percent

Odyssey 50 percent

Polo Park 59 percent

Roosevelt 64 percent

Are any middle schools full?

Ten are filled near to capacity (at least 95 percent)  and beyond, including: Bak MSOA, Boca Raton, Conniston, Don Estridge, Eagles Landing, Independence, Loggers Run, Omni and Western Pines.

What about high schools? 

All but two of the district’s 23 high schools are filled to at least 80 percent capacity – nine are beyond capacity.

 

 

 

 

Update: Last of fall school boundary changes OK’d

Update: Boundary changes approved. 

Original post: The school board will get its last crack at changing boundaries for next school year at its meeting Wednesday night.

So far, the board has already approved moves that should relieve crowding at its most over- filled elementary: Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton. Now the board will move to address the situation at Forest Hill High school – a school so packed that at least 24 teachers don’t have their own classrooms.

It will also tackle two middle school changes that at least for next year involve all of about three students – yes three, not a typo.

With that, boundaries will be set for the fall, leaving two district-wide matters looming:

What can be done about crowding at almost every other high school?

When open enrollment was announced, more than one parent griped to see that only three high schools – two of them in the Glades – had enough room to take students from outside their typical boundaries.

Nine of 23 high schools are filled beyond capacity, five more are at 95 percent capacity or beyond.

What does the district do about its emptying middle schools? 

Eight of the county’s 33 middle schools have at least one third of their seats empty, as calculated by the state. Six are closer to half full: Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Carver in Delray Beach, Crestwood in Royal Palm Beach, John F. Kennedy in Riviera Beach, Lake Shore in Belle Glade and Odyssey in Boynton Beach.

The district has made some moves to address these matters. Most recently some of these middle schools received grant money to beef up choice offerings and attract more students.

Avossa visits Forest Hill HS on first day. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a plan that worked for Forest Hill High which was losing students until it opened an International Baccalaureate program and several other magnets.   

This fall, the school built for just over 1,830 students, welcomed more than 2,400.

The relief proposed will transfer an estimated 182 students off the rolls and send them to Palm Beach Lakes High – a campus considerably closer to their neighborhood which sits north of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

Paired with that move is one that aligns where students in the same neighborhood go to middle school. Instead of attending Conniston Middle which feeds to Forest Hill, the handful of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in this northern reach will instead go to Roosevelt Middle, where their classmates all move on to Palm Beach Lakes High.

Unlike the shuffle negotiated in Boca Raton, these moves in the West Palm Beach area have gone widely unopposed.

Some board members and panelists on the advisory boundary committee have expressed concern that the parents in the neighborhoods concerned may be poor, and may not have the time or the means to come to the meetings or launch large objections if they had any.

The final proposed boundary change involves shifting middle school assignments for neighborhoods in the town of Westlake where no homes have yet been built.

 

Boca sex-on-campus investigation began with Apple Watch message

Two Olympic Heights High School teachers accused of having sexual encounters with each other on campus were outed by his Apple Watch and angry wife, according to a school district investigation of the matter.

Both lost their jobs during the course of the investigation.

Photo from Palm Beach County School Board investigation.

William Barham, 45, was fired – a process that was sped by the fact he’d been hired just a year ago to work in the school’s Junior ROTC program. Vocational teacher Laura Field, 28, quit, district officials report.

The principal of the Boca Raton school alerted parents of the matter March 2, after the two were no longer employed.

Investigators were tipped off on Feb. 24., according to reports released this week.

It appears Barham’s wife spotted a text message to him on his Apple watch. The message said, “This was a stupid flying(sic) we should have never done this. I’m going to lose my job for having sex with you at school. And for leaving school to have set together. Everyone knows.”

Barham’s wife took a picture of the message and contacted not only school officials, but the boyfriend of the teacher she suspected sent it.

That boyfriend gave investigators photos of the messages he took off Field’s phone from a contact she labeled “captainamerica” that further supported the accusations, according to the report.

 

Bill would end these high school end-of-course exams

A bill that would eliminate the majority of high school end of course exams, allow schools to give the remaining statewide tests in a paper-and-pencil format and seeks to take student test scores out of the grading equation for teachers and schools has begun to make the rounds in Florida’s capital.

Sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also runs the state superintendents association, the bill has bipartisan backing.

The last time a test was eliminated

Anti-testing sentiment has been brewing statewide, as it has nationally, for years. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged that students in public schools have to take too many tests and then cut one of them from the line up: the state’s language arts test for high school juniors. He also tweaked some rules that put the burden of chipping away further tests on the districts while the state lineup remained the same.

Montford’s bill (SB  964/HB 1249) has considerably more breadth.

It would eliminate the Florida Standards Assessment in grade 9, all end-of-course exams except for Algebra 1 and Biology. It seeks to find alternates for other statewide exams in high school, such as the ACT or SAT.

It would push testing back to the last weeks of the school year.

And, by allowing for pencil-and-paper testing, it could free up weeks of time in classrooms. (Because schools don’t have the computers or bandwidth to test all students at once, testing schedules are currently weeks-long windows during which students rotate through testing.) 

“This is the first time since the 1999 passage of the A+ bill that we’ve had a bipartisan bill that, in Sen. (David) Simmons‘ words, restores sanity in teaching and testing,” said Vern Pickup-Crawford, who is lobbying on behalf of the Palm Beach County School District.

It isn’t the only legislation that purports to respond to the appeals to dial back testing.

About a month ago, three lawmakers unveiled what they have dubbed the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, a name that is a nod to its supporters in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Despite its name, that legislation (SB 926/ HB 773) doesn’t explicitly do away with any state required exam.

It seeks to examine the possibility of replacing tests required for high school graduation with the ACT or SAT college entrance exams, if they align with Florida’s standards.  It also pushes testing back closer to the end of the school year and seeks quicker turn around for test results.

Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican scheduled to become speaker of the House after the 2020 elections was quoted by News Service of Florida: 

“We got the message from parents and teachers about how they feel about the testing process, the anxiety that some of their students feel, and really the common-sense approach of what kind of tools they need to make sure that their children and their students are getting a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time.”

A critic’s take

Testing critic Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the group FairTest, calls Montford’s legislation “a step in the right direction.”

“It is a much better bill from an assessment reform standpoint in that it actually does something. Florida is among the worst (states) in test use and over use. The Montford bill is an attempt for compromise and it somewhat reflects concerns of the grass roots assessment reform movement.”

Those concerns? The volume of testing and the consequences.

“It’s very impressive that he was able to get that many Republicans, significant Republicans, to break the Jeb Bush lockstep.”

Montford’s co-sponsors: Community Affairs chairman and former Senate president Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Education committee vice chairwoman Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach; Children, Families and Elder Affairs chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; and Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando.

An identical version of the bill was filed in the House by Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello.

Still, Schaeffer isn’t getting his hopes up.

“I think it’s a good start. Tallahassee is starting to listen,” Schaeffer said. But it’s not enough to write the bill, it must move forward. “It’s whatever leadership decides. I don’t know that (they) have made this a priority.”

 

Who’s PBC’s Teacher of the Year? Hint: She teaches English

Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches ESOL English at Palm Beach Central High is awarded PBC Teacher of the Year Tuesday morning. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post)
Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches ESOL English at Palm Beach Central High is awarded PBC Teacher of the Year Tuesday morning. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post)

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa arrived Tuesday morning at Palm Beach Central High’s campus to give teacher Evangeline Aguirre the day off – after, of course, he told her she had been named Palm Beach County Teacher of the Year.

Aguirre accepted the balloons and flowers, but declined the holiday. She’s in the middle of planning a boot camp to prepare her students for statewide testing. She’ll take that holiday another time.

The state’s high-stakes exam can be particularly challenging for students because they all are just learning the language.

Aguirre, Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year, teaches high school English to students who aren’t native speakers of the language. But her lessons go well beyond understanding the text, and her students say they work hard because her story isn’t all that different from theirs.

Aguirre began her life in the Philippines and came to the U.S. in 2004 as part of a teaching exchange program.

Her students are more recent arrivals from about 20 different countries. They speak about 15 languages among them, but they’re only beginning to get a handle on English. And while Aguirre said she understands a bit of Spanish and French, that’s not enough to converse fluently with the students. So they find other ways to get through the lessons.

It’s hard work, but her students say they’re encouraged by her genuine interest in their lives, both in the classroom and out.

Huddled together to brainstorm all the things they’ve learned from her, students from Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela say she’s told them: Don’t give up. Value what you have. If you see your friends go astray, go the other way.

“She absolutely loves kids,” said her principal Darren Edgecomb. “Sometimes that’s taken for granted. It all builds from building a good relationship.”

ICYMI: Avossa gets creamed in cookoff with Dwyer students

Superintendent Robert Avossa may still be licking his wounds after culinary defeat last week at the hands of William T. Dwyer High students. Within minutes of the judges’ ruling favoring the teens, Avossa laid the groundwork for his defense, throwing his wingman in the competition under the proverbial bus:

“Pete and I fought a lot about what was going on the plate,” Avossa said.

That’s Pete Licata, director of the district’s choice and career programs.

Read the full story and see video here.   

The plating, according to judges, was just one ding on the administrative team. The other? The sauce lacked seasoning. (Ouch. Sore spot for Avossa who advised mid-stove top stir that what’s wrong with American is that they over-season their sauce. See the video.)

Avossa forwarded this pic of the competition with the note: “Do we look happy or what?”  I’d say it’s time for a photo caption contest. Thoughts?

Photo courtesy Palm Beach County School District.
Photo courtesy Palm Beach County School District.

Avossa said he is already considering another cook-off next year. Meanwhile, he continues to cook at home. “My kids love my classic tomato sauce with rigatoni. My wife likes grilled or blackened fish with grilled veggies.”

 

 

 

 

Comparing PBC school day hours, use of iReady, planning time, more

School districts have many strategies at their disposal when it comes to delivering an education, including how many hours a day school is open, what opportunities teachers are given to plan and collaborate and teaching tools and time dedicated to reading.

This afternoon at a workshop,  the Palm Beach County School Board will get an overview of how this county stacks up against three other urban Florida districts.

To hit some highlights:

Hours in the day

Palm Beach County’s public school day is longer in elementary grades at 6 hours and 5 minutes than those in Broward, but some 10 minutes shorter than in Orange County.  (Just this summer, Superintendent Robert Avossa told the school board that they were researching the possibility of adding another half hour in hopes that it would improve student performance.)

Early release days

The public schools here have five to six early release days, while Broward has six and Orange takes an hour on Wednesdays (this is an update from information the district posted Wednesday morning).

PLCs

These are the planning collaboration periods for teachers. Palm Beach County staff described this as ‘recommended but not required’ in this county – the same as all but Orange County, where it is required. (While district administration doesn’t require it, certain teachers have said they feel compelled to go despite the semantics.)

iReady? 

This is the adaptive computer software the district invested $5.6 million to expand from 33 elementary schools to all of them this fall.( Not all parents or teachers have embraced the adoption, however. )

The district requires students from kindergarten through fifth grade to complete 90 minutes a week of iReady math and language lessons. By the chart, so too does Miami-Dade. Only some schools in Broward commit to 45 minutes – unclear if that’s math, reading or both. Orange county does not required it.

Here’s the chart in its entirety: 

 

2districtscompare

 

 

Update: Teachers accused of giving hints on state tests fired

testing

 

Update:  The school board agreed to fire the teachers. The item was on a consent agenda and passed without comment at Wednesday’s special meeting. For more details see the full story here. 

 

A thumbs-up here, a grumble or tap there have put the careers of two Palm Beach County elementary school teachers in peril after district investigators concluded they were tipping off third graders to right and wrong answers as the children sat for the statewide math exam last spring.

The investigation into the separate incidents at different schools began when students described their experience to other teachers — in one case within hours of putting down their No. 2 pencils, in the other within weeks of the test.

Throughout the investigations, both teachers denied breaking the rules, according to documents released by the Palm Beach County School District Tuesday. Neither teacher, nor their attorneys, replied to requests for comment Tuesday.

Sanders has worked for the district for 11 years; Rios logged eight years. Should the board approve the recommendations, both would lose their jobs effective Feb. 3.

 

See the full story, including excerpts of what their students said when questioned, here. 

 

 

 

 

 

School resumes Monday in PBC; some thoughts on what to do until then

For those of you checking your calendar, wondering when school is back in session: Students return Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.

Some district employees return a couple of days earlier: Thursday.

The next long weekend isn’t far off, however. Students and employees will have the following Monday – Jan. 16 – off for Martin Luther King Day.

jancal

 

Looking for stuff to do in the meantime? Maybe Art After Dark at the Norton Museum Thursday night or catch Ice Age: Collision Course (PG) at the Wellington Amphitheater’s Free Movie Night Friday. See a full listing of free things to do with kids during the holiday break Dec. 23 – Jan. 8, 2017 here.