Flagler Schools is celebrating a school grade ranking of 12th out of the state’s 67 districts, and preparing to transition to the new Florida Standards Assessment, the test that will replace the FCAT in some subject areas in coming years, Superintendent Jacob Oliva said at the State of Education address Oct. 7.
“We have an overall rating of a B,” Oliva said. “We need 525 points to be an A on the scale that they use for school district ratings, and we have 521, so we’re almost there, and we’re hoping to keep moving forward and getting back to our A status.”
New assessments coming
But the switch to a new assessment system, which Oliva said will be “very different than anything we have seen before” and which teachers and administrators have not yet had a chance to see, is worrying district staff.
“These assessments are currently being field-tested in Utah, we have not seen them, and it’s created a lot of concern from the school board level and the superintendent level and definitely from the classroom, parent and teacher level, because our students have to be able to demonstrate proficiency on these exams in order to meet certain graduation requirements,” he said. “Our teachers’ students have to be able to show proficiency on these exams in order to hold their jobs.”
The test differs from other standardized tests, Oliva said, in that instead of simply choosing a multiple-choice answer, the students have to be able to explain their answers.
The district’s 1:1 movement to put technology in students’ hands is placing it ahead of even school systems like San Francisco’s, which was “touting how impressed they were to issue laptops to all of their secondary teachers this year,” Oliva said.
“We just finished deploying iPads to all our our fifth- and sixth- graders, all of our middle-schoolers have a MacBook, and all of our high-schoolers have a MacBook Air. So we’re the first district in the state to go 1-to-1 as a district for grades five through 12,” Oliva said.
The district has also started using rolling desks that are adjustable so students can use them sitting or standing.
“When we put these in a classroom to test it out, about 98% of the time the kids want to stand, and they want to move around,” Oliva said. “So we’re looking at how do we want to actively engage our students in the learning process.
“I can promise you we’re leading the state, and everywhere that I go, I can promise you people want to know what are we doing in Flagler and how are we getting it done.”
Parents speak out; District to examine inclusion program
The school district will take a closer look at its inclusion program, which places students with disabilities in general education classrooms, and work to fix issues that have frustrated teachers and parents, board members said.
The problem came to the attention of the district’s leadership after a guest editorial by Dr. Myra Middleton, published in the Palm Coast Observer. In the editorial, Middleton sought to allay community concerns about the inclusion program, but it received a slew of negative online comments from parents and teachers who called the program a “disaster” and said students and teachers weren’t getting the help they needed. That prompted what School Board Chairman Andy Dance called a “huge conversation” about inclusion.
Middleton, speaking during the meeting’s public comment period, said she’d realized “from recent comments to the article that were published online, it was stated that the situation is not as positive as I had reported.” She asked the board to create “a method of routine communication to the public on specific, measurable and observable outcomes for ESE and general education students and staff who are involved in the inclusion process.”
A handful of parents spoke on inclusion, all saying they’d been frustrated with a perceived lack of responsiveness on the part of the district to their children’s needs.
One parent, Eric Jordan, said Flagler has been an improvement over other districts he and his family have lived in, but “we still feel like we have to battle the school system to get any type of help. ... For some reason, it’s one excuse after another to not get what we need. (ESE parents) all go through this, and it’s almost an ‘us versus them’ kind of attitude.”
“These teachers have not had any training on students with (autism spectrum disorder),” another man said. “They’ve had no time to come up with a curriculum. We’re six weeks into the school year, and still many teachers are struggling to teach these children.” The man said his son, who performs at a third-grade level, is now in a sixth-grade general education classroom expected to do sixth-grade work when he hasn’t even learned fourth- and fifth-grade material.
School Board member Colleen Conklin said that if it was a constant battle, “it shouldn’t be.” She had already requested, at a meeting that preceded the State of Education address, that district staff gather detailed information on the inclusion program so the board could evaluate it.
“We will be looking at it and workshopping it at the next School Board workshop. We requested some data to really examine the process of inclusion as a model,” she said. “This is a huge change for our community; it’s a huge change for our district. And it may be that if we don’t have the right supports in place, that we really have no right to do this.”
The board will examine, for instance, the change in the number of para-professionals working with students, self-contained classes offered and services provided to students and teachers.
“We can begin to look at that data, analyze that data, see where we’re at and look at what good research says about the variables that need to be in place,” Conklin said. “And if those variables are not in place, we need to have an honest conversation about putting them in place.”
Dance noted that there is “a trend, I believe with federal mandates, that’s pushing” inclusion, but said the district is “going to do the best we can once we get the information.”
“We are doing great things in Flagler Schools,” he continued, “and if we’re not doing things right, I’m so blessed to work with the board, to have their support and the support of our teachers and parents to be able to fix things when we don’t get them right.”