St. Johns County School District, as a whole, stacks up remarkably well in the grades it receives from the Florida Department of Education.
For more than a decade running, the school system has earned a stellar “A” as a district, making it the envy of other Florida counties.
And the large majority of its schools are at the top of the heap in individual ranking as well, maintaining or rising to excellence with As and Bs in the 2017 grade ratings released by the state last month.
But there are a handful of schools within the district that have shown a downward trend over the last several years. Ketterlinus Elementary School, for instance, had been given a letter grade of “A” in 2015, slipping to a “B” in 2016 and then a “C” this year.
Similarly, Pedro Menendez High School slid from an “A” two years ago to a “B” last year and finally a “C” for 2017.
The criteria the DOE considers in its annual school grading evaluations includes test scores, performance gains, graduation rates and student participation in higher-level offerings such as Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses.
For schools like Murray Middle School, Sebastian Middle School and St. Augustine High School, the dropoff isn’t as steady. Murray’s grades from 2015 through 2017 are an “A,” “B” and “B.” St. Augustine High School’s over that period of time are the same: “A,” B” and “B.” Sebastian received a “B” in 2015, falling to a “C” in 2016 and a “C” in 2017.
On Monday, The Record spoke to Brennen Asplen, deputy superintendent for academic and student services, to learn more about why these schools may be faltering and, as educators gear up for the 2017-18 school year, what the plan is to turn that situation around.
“It’s not alarming, however, when you do have a school go down a letter grade you’re going to have to look at that school deeper,” Asplen said. “Something is going on and we just need to figure it out and make a game plan.”
Since school grades were issued two weeks ago, Asplen said, administrators have been meeting with individual school principals and other district staff to go over the rankings — and the data that comes with them — with a fine-tooth comb.
“We are still analyzing the data to try to understand what deficiencies there might be — sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not,” Asplen said. “Then we can create a plan of action and make sure we have all the resources we need and move forward with that plan.”
In some cases, Asplen said, it can be “just a few students” whose performance made the grading go down, or graduation rates that decreased one year over the next. At the elementary level, the results of one class or grade on a standardized test like the Florida Standards Assessment could be enough to account for an overall drop in the school’s ranking.
The district aims to have a remedial plan in place for schools, especially like Ketterlinus and Pedro Menendez, by the start of the school year on Aug. 10. Asplen added that newer assessment measures like Discovery Education and the i-Ready platform may better help teachers and educators gauge their progress over the course of the school year so that there are no surprises when DOE school grades come in.