Palm Beach County’s public school system continues to fare better on the state’s report card than any other of the state’s large, urban school districts. But high marks over its big-district peers for graduation rates, and top scores in math, science and social studies weren’t enough to retain the district’s A rating.
When Florida’s Department of Education released its school and district grades Friday, not one district rose to an A rating and only three of 20 districts held on to one. Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, among the state’s seven largest, fell to a B; Broward and Miami-Dade also are B-rated.
The number of schools earning an F across the state dropped by half. Palm Beach County saw an even bigger drop, cutting the number of F schools from 18 to 6. All but two are charter schools, operated with public money but private control.
As it did statewide, the number of A schools in Palm Beach County also fell, perhaps most notably at high schools including Atlantic, William T. Dwyer and Olympic Heights.
Much change was expected in this round of grading, the first opportunity the state has had to compare one year’s test scores to the previous year’s since the Florida Standards Assessments replaced the FCAT in spring 2015. In that time, not only have the tests changed but also the formula the state uses to calculate school grades.
“Our students, teachers, principals, parents and staff are the foundation of our success as a district,” Superintendent Robert Avossa said in a written statement. “I’m particularly impressed by the hard work put in by the students and teachers at our schools, which resulted in substantial improvement this year — we are all celebrating your accomplishments today.”
Those accomplishments included:
- Eight district-operated schools improved their ratings by at least two letter grades.
- 58 schools earned As and 37 earned Bs.
- The number of Palm Beach County elementaries on the state’s lowest performing list fell from 23 to 17.
The district did have some schools on the state’s intervention list for a record of poor performance, including Pioneer Park Elementary and Lakeshore Middle in the Glades and Northmore Elementary in West Palm Beach, but all three moved their grade up to a C.
“Glades-area schools in particular had a strong showing, with seven of 11 traditional schools improving their grade,” the district touted in its statement. That included Rosenwald Elementary in South Bay, which raised its grade from D to B.
“We’re really proud of the transformation of some of our most challenged schools,” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said.
“On the other side, we were disappointed in Grove Park and Washington elementaries dropping to F grades,” Christiansen said. Grove Park in Palm Beach Gardens and Washington in Riviera Beach were both D-rated schools last year, but had earned B and A grades in the past.
The key to pulling up scores and keeping them from falling back is to be consistent with the money and support flowing to the district’s poorest and most “complex” schools, he said. The district’s recent reorganization and redirection of millions to those poor schools aims to do that, he said.
“Our approach is really different than what we have done in the past. I call (what used to happen) the yo-yo effect. Put all your resources into the failing schools, the grades go up and then you pull out and the scores go back down. It does not work,” Christiansen said.
The grades also cast a spotlight on known problems in the district’s schools, including the need to drive more middle school students to earn industry certification or enroll in high school level classes – the district got the lowest scores of any urban district on this marker. Christiansen said changes were made this year, but not in time to make this round of grades.