Local high schools shine despite changing standards

Katie Tammen | Northwest Florida Daily News

Continuously changing standards didn’t seem to affect the overall performance of local high school students.

Preliminary school grades released Friday showed students in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties were more than able to meet the new rigor.

The results are preliminary because the Florida Department of Education allows schools to appeal their grades. Crestview High School successfully did that two years ago.

In Okaloosa County, all the high schools received an A except for Laurel Hill School, which received a C.

In Santa Rosa County, two schools earned As and the rest received Bs. Walton County had an identical result.

“When the target keeps changing, it’s difficult to meet the bull’s-eye … so it’s amazing that they (teachers and students) keep producing these great scores,” said Kaye McKinley, deputy superintendent of Okaloosa County schools.

McKinley said that while administrators were concerned about the lower grade at Laurel Hill, a look at the data revealed the grade didn’t necessary mean students weren’t performing well.

Instead, it looks like the grade was due in a large part to the school’s size and inability to have the same number of accelerated courses as larger schools, she said.

Under the state’s new grading plan, high schools earn points based on various factors, including performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, graduation rates, the number of accelerated courses offered and passed, and student learning gains.

McKinley said the school district will continue to find ways to offer more accelerated courses at Laurel Hill, but cautioned that the school’s size frequently will play a role in its grade under the new standards because fewer students means every performance counts for more.

Walton County Superintendent of Schools Carlene Anderson said she was extremely pleased when she saw how well all the high schools performed, especially because many factors that contribute to the grade had changed.

“It’s the depth of the criteria now that seems challenging, but we keep rising to the occasion,” she said. “And that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said he also was pleased when he saw the results.

“The high schools saw an increase that demonstrates a deliberate practice for addressing student deficiencies,” he wrote in an email.

Two schools in the district went from Bs to As this year.

Grades for elementary and middle schools were released last summer.

In addition to the high school grades, the state evaluated alternative and exceptional student education schools on their own system for the first time.

Those schools could choose to get a grade or opt for a school improvement rating, which is based on learning gains.

All local schools that fall into that group opted for the improvement rating. They were identified as improving, maintaining or declining. Schools that didn’t test enough students were considered incomplete and not rated.

Silver Sands and Richbourg schools, which are ESE schools in Okaloosa County, both were rated as improving.

“We’re very pleased with that, and it was basically a measure for us to see if what we’re doing there is right,” McKinley said.

Based on those ratings, few changes are likely at the schools.

However, the news wasn’t all good for local alternative schools. Emerald Coast Career Institute North in Crestview was ranked as declining.

McKinley said the rating wasn’t what officials were looking for, but a closer examination of the data showed students there were making progress, which is the entire purpose of the drop-out prevention school.

The goal for students at Emerald Coast Career Institute North is to earn a high school diploma and get a job or go to college, not necessarily to make the honor roll or take accelerated courses.

“We’re striving for perfection, of course,” McKinley said. “But this is not a perfect world.”