Florida’s 300 Lowest-Performing Districts Add Extra Hour for Reading

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Seventy-nine South Florida elementary schools will add an extra hour to their school days this academic year because students are not reading up to par.

A list of the 300 lowest performing district schools and charters was released on Friday by the state based on students' performance and improvement in reading as assessed by the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).

The extra hour of reading instruction can be added to the beginning of the school day or when school is dismissed, or a combination of both, reports Scott Travis of the Sun Sentinel. In Broward County, there are 34 schools on the list, which is two higher than the number last year. Palm Beach has 20 schools, down from last year's total of 25, and Miami-Dade has 25, down from 29 schools last year.

Most of the schools on the bottom of the 300 list rated a D or F, but 24 C-rated schools made the list also. Interestingly, a few schools that were ranked at the D-level were not among the lowest 300.

The reason for this may be that school grading looks at science, reading, writing, and math performance, while the bottom 300 list only tracks reading. The result is that a school that has a rating of C, but performed well on math and not well in reading, may be put on the list. But a D-level school that has high reading performance that was stronger than other subjects' ratings may not be on the bottom 300 list.

"There's not necessarily a direct correlation between a school letter grade and whether or not they appear on the list of schools deemed lowest performing," said Broward administrator Mark Strauss.

On the bright side, 46 South Florida schools that were on the list last school year are off the list this year and will be able to stop running an extended day.

Central Florida has 34 public schools on the list, but no schools from the Osceola County District. In some districts, less than 30% of pupils passed the language arts portion of the FSA, writes Leslie Postal for the Orlando Sentinel.

While the longer day is approved by some educators and parents, others say the extra hour can make the day too long for some kids. Also, when the program started, schools were expected to pay for the program from funds put aside for helping students who were struggling. This year the legislature will provide the money needed to elongate the day.

And in Palm Beach County, 20 elementary schools will be extending their days because of poor showings on the language arts portion of the FSA.

In an update to the story written by Andrew Marra for the Palm Beach Post, the district states that for schools that are "extended-day schools" already, those on the lowest 300 list will extend their days by only a half-hour.

The reading support program implemented by the legislature in 2012 was the lawmakers' attempt to guarantee that students who were floundering in their reading programs would receive the extra help they needed.

But another glitch in the initiative, in some parents' and teachers' opinions, is that even students who are reading at grade level are expected to stay for the extra hour. Having the proficient readers present makes it difficult, according to educators, for teachers to focus on the weakest readers. And conversely, if there are struggling readers at schools which do not fall on the 300 list, those students do not get extra help.

Additionally, the extended day does not seem to be making a difference for many students. A state review during the last academic year found that just 20% of the "extra-hour" schools did better on their reading scores than demographically and academically similar students at schools not participating in the extended day program.

The Palm Beach Post analyzed the program last year and found that the number of low-performing schools that improved their scores dropped at 16 county schools that had offered two years of longer school days.

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