Polk County Public Schools registered a slight districtwide increase in reading proficiency during the 2018-19 school year, and big jumps at the school level, according to new data released by the Florida Department of Education on Friday. “We continue to make steady progress as a school district, and this data is the latest example. I am extremely proud of the hard work our students, staff members and parents are doing to move reading proficiency,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. “Reading is an essential life skill, and it is fundamental to all future learning. The increases we’re seeing in reading proficiency speak to our commitment to our students, and to preparing them for successful careers and lives after they leave us.”
According to the FLDOE, the percentage of PCPS third-grade students who scored a 3, 4, or 5 on the Florida Standards Assessment English Language Arts exam increased from 51 percent in 2017-18 to 52 percent in 2018-19. PCPS kept pace with the state, which saw its third-grade proficiency increase from 57 to 58 percent.
PCPS is among the few Central Florida school districts to see a year-to-year increase; Osceola and Orange held steady. PCPS’ third-grade reading proficiency now matches Hillsborough’s.
“As a district, we’re putting an emphasis on K-2 reading,” said Chief Academic Officer Michael Akes. “What you’re seeing now are the effects of that work in the earlier grades, combined with a lot of hard work by third-grade teachers and students.”
K-2 teachers are teaching foundational reading skills and promoting independent reading. Additionally, teachers are monitoring the reading proficiency of all students, allowing them to support students’ development as readers.
The FLDOE report also showed that PCPS increased the percentage of students scoring a 4 or 5 by 1 percent, from 23 percent in 2017-18 to 24 percent in 2018-19.
The district’s turnaround elementary schools all either held steady or showed marked year-to-year increases. They include: Caldwell Elementary, which increased from 41 to 52 percent; Griffin Elementary, which increased from 26 to 37 percent; Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary, which increased from 42 to 48 percent; and Philip O’Brien Elementary, which held at 44 percent for both years.
“Those results are byproducts not only of the district’s emphasis on early literacy, but the added supports we have put into place in those schools to help them increase their overall academic performance,” Deputy Superintendent John Hill said. “What also makes a difference is that our regional assistant superintendents work very closely with our principals and school-based leaders to ensure the implementation of structures, supports and strategies is effective.”
Examples of such supports include: direct support in the area of reading from district reading curriculum specialists and coaches, and school improvement support from the external firm Educational Directions.
“We are also being very intentional and strategic with our interventions. We are analyzing student work and then coaching them to proficiency,” said Caldwell Principal Cheryl Hill. “We’re also making a big push to encourage students to put forth their best effort and change their mindset. We have students rate the effort they put into their work on a scale of 1-5, then the teachers lead them in conversations on working hard and showing grit. When our kids believe they can, they do.”
Districtwide, of the 82 elementary schools, 18 had a year-to-year increase of 10 percent or more. The biggest gain was at Dundee Elementary Academy, which saw third-grade proficiency increase from 48 to 68 percent.
“Our third-grade teachers were determined to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get results this year,” said Dundee Elementary Academy Principal Lana Tatom. “Every teacher provided small group instruction with guidance from our literacy coach, tutored students after school and conducted personalized learning during the school day. We had support from our district administration and reading coach, i3 mentor teacher, ESOL department and the specialists provided by the Office of Acceleration with Reader’s Workshop.
“Our parents embraced our ‘readers are leaders and readers travel with books’ motto. They even sent me pictures during the year of their children reading wherever they went.”
PCPS tested slightly more students in 2018-19 than in 2017-18, 8,437 compared to 8,352.