Polk County Public Schools is making gains in each of the five goals contained within its strategic plan, including student academic performance and teacher recruitment and retention.
“I’m very proud of the hard work everyone at PCPS is doing. Students, teachers, parents, every employee is working together to move us forward,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd, following Tuesday’s strategic planning meeting with the School Board.
“In 2017-18, we saw spikes in several academic areas. We knew we would undergo a leveling-off period. Even so, when you look at the trend over the last several years, we are moving in the right direction and getting results for our students and our community. The work continues at PCPS, and we remain committed to continual improvement in all areas of our organization — that’s what our students deserve.”
During their update on the Strategic Plan to the School Board, district administrators shared that PCPS maintained or improved its performance in nine of 11 academic areas monitored by the state.
Here’s a closer look at some of the data presented Tuesday:
District grade — In 2018-19, PCPS maintained a B grade for the second consecutive year. School districts earn points toward their grade based on student performance in English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as graduation rate and the number of students taking accelerated coursework and earning industry certifications.
PCPS earned a total of 598 points toward its district grade in 2018-19, up from 595 the year prior. While it trailed the state average in year-to-year gains, PCPS continues to trend upward in the number of points it is earning each year. In 2016, the district earned just 49 percent of the points that determine its grade. That percentage has steadily increased, reaching 54 percent in 2018-19.
“There are a certain number of points on the table,” explained Deputy Superintendent John Hill, “and we’re earning more and more of them. This means that we are continually improving our students’ overall academic proficiency.”
School grades — For the second consecutive year, none of PCPS’s traditional schools have a grade of F. The number of schools with a grade of D increased from 6 in 2017-18 to 21 in 2018-19. Byrd assured the Board that several of the D schools are within just a few points of earning a C, and the district is working diligently to help them cross that threshold.
“We’ve gone deep into the data. We know what schools need help, and where they need it. We’ve been strategic in placing the right supports into those schools,” Byrd said.
Graduation rate — The district’s graduation rate increased to 80.4 percent in 2017-18, the most recent year available, up from 71.8 percent just two years ago. The results exceeded the goal School Board members set within the strategic plan by 3.4 percent. Regional Assistant Superintendent Tami Dawson added the graduation rate at the district’s 14 traditional high schools reached 86.5 percent in 2017-18, outpacing the state average.
Dawson, who oversees high schools, said in recent years, the district has begun providing transportation for students who need after-school and weekend tutoring and monitoring students on a one-on-one basis to make sure they are on track to graduate. These are among the strategies pushing the district’s graduation rate higher.
A similar jump was seen among students with disabilities. The graduation rate for those students increased from 43 percent two years ago to 66 percent in 2017-18, exceeding the School Board’s goal by 11 percent.
Dropout rate — The dropout rate is down at 11 of PCPS’s 14 traditional high schools and down districtwide for students with disabilities, from 32 percent in 2016-17 to 30 percent in 2017-18, which met the School Board’s goal. Progress monitoring is also helping drive down the dropout rate.
English Language Arts — From 2017-18 to 2018-19, student achievement in ELA, as measured by the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), increased by one percentage point; ELA learning gains, an indicator of students’ year-to-year progress, improved by two percentage points; and ELA learning gains among students who score in the bottom 25 percent on the FSA improved by one percentage point.
“In a district of our size, for every one percentage point gain in ELA proficiency, that means almost 700 students improved their reading ability,” Chief Academic Officer Michael Akes said. “That’s the story behind these numbers. These are children who are becoming better readers, which will help them in every academic subject and their future careers.”
Mathematics — The percentage of students who are proficient in mathematics — meaning they score a 3 or better on the FSA — held steady at 51 percent from 2017-18 to 2018-19, but is up from 47 percent in 2016-17.
Acceleration — The number of students taking accelerated coursework, including dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge AICE, jumped 8 percent, from 8,424 to 9,095, between 2016-17 and 2018-19. The biggest increase was in dual enrollment, which many students prefer because they are most likely to earn college credits. The number of students taking dual enrollment courses was up 35 percent during the same time period.
“The movement we’re seeing in acceleration can be attributed to the hard work of students, teachers, counselors and career and technical education teachers and departments, who are working together to ensure every student has a postsecondary plan already underway before they graduate from high school,” Byrd said.
The district showed decreases in students’ performance in social studies and science, but strategies are in place that the district expects will start to push those scores higher.
Rounding out the strategic plan update given to School Board members on Tuesday were reports on teacher recruitment and retention efforts and public perception of the district.
Innovative strategies, including virtual recruitment fairs, new teacher seminars and leadership development opportunities for experienced teachers, are helping to attract and keep more teachers in PCPS classrooms.
Increased use of social media is helping the district share more of its good news and improve public perception.
“I am proud and honored to serve as superintendent of Polk County Public Schools,” Byrd said. “In every division and department, we are working together in pursuit of our mission: providing a high-quality education to our students. We are living the words ‘Students First,’ because that’s what matters most. Whether we’re teaching, hiring or promoting our district, we are doing the very best for our students.”