Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams recently updated the Board of Education about progress, or lack thereof, made in two dozen measurements of student achievement.
Williams’ report shows the fluctuations in whether students are meeting benchmarks that keep teachers and administrators from ever feeling content.
For example, while literacy assessments for kindergarten through second-grade learners has ticked up 2 percent from 2016 to 2017, reading comprehension for third- through 10th-graders declined 5 percent during that same time frame.
So what explains this drop? First, Williams said, there is an increased number of students being judged as enrollment grows, and those who are proficient are moving on to their junior and senior years.
There also has been a drop in the percentage of kindergarten through fifth-grade special-education students who are being served in the regular school environment.
Gainesville wants these students in normal learning settings at least 80 percent of the day, though the state sets a threshold of 60 percent. In 2017, however, special-education learners were served in regular classroom settings just 59.5 percent of the time.
Expanding co-teaching environments will help improve this figure, Williams said, and continues to be a priority for teachers and administrators.
“We need to increase the time a child is in the regular environment,” he added. “Once they leave us, they are adults ... we’ve got to make sure they’re prepared.”
The number of special education students has remained relatively steady for several years, Williams said, but he is pushing to better identify non-English language learners, particularly from the city’s large Latino community, that would qualify rather than just labeling their deficiencies as a simple “language deficit.”
Major improvements, meanwhile, have been made in “Milestones” assessments, which measure proficiency in ninth-grade literature (up to 60.3 percent of students passing in 2017 from 44.1 percent in 2016), American literature courses (up to 59.3 percent from 51.8 percent) and elementary students passing mathematics assessments (up to 56.8 percent from 51.5 percent).
Williams said collaboration among teachers is helping to dramatically improve school and student performance measures by raising expectations, sharing resources and expanding curriculum.
“That’s why I believe we see great strides,” he added. “It’s all about the teachers.”
Significant improvements have also been made in the number of high school graduates earning “industry certifications” completing work-based learning credit and receiving dual-enrollment credit.
Additionally, the number of students taking advanced placement courses has grown.
“We’ve done a good job,” Williams said. “But we still have a ways to go.”