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Test scores in for public schools

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
The test results are in for schools, and the message is clear to Escambia County superintendent of education Melvin 'Buck' Powell.
"The entire system is academically clear overall. There are no priority schools, no bad schools," Powell said. "All high schools are in clear status, and we have to give credit to students, to the administration, faculty and staff, to the parents of these children, to the tutors."
Testing gives schools one of three ranks: clear, watch or priority.
Clear means that every category in each testing level meets standards.
Watch means that there are specific problems in the school, with some categories within levels falling short of the mark.
Priority means that there are several problems that need addressed in order to help the children achieve passing scores.
Additionally, the schools may be ranked at any level with a subcategory attachment, such as clear with watch, clear with watch and priority, and so on.
The subcategory indicates how each population of a school fared in testing.
The subcategories are special education students, Asian/Pacific islander students, black students, white students, Hispanic students, and free or reduced lunch students. At the middle school level, another category, that of students with limited English, is added into the mix.
There were three Escambia County schools in the watch category last year.
The elementary schools were ranked as follows:
Huxford is clear in all categories as well as all subcategories, and scored a 66 percentile overall.
A.C. Moore is watch with priority. Watch was listed for all students, with a 35 percentile passing score, as well as for the black students with a 30 percentile passing score. The priority was for special education students, who earned only a 14 percentile passing score.
W.S. Neal Elementary was clear with watch, with a 47 percentile passing score and watch being warranted for black student subcategory, with a 37 percentile passing score.
Flomaton Elementary School was clear in all categories, with a 57 percentile passing score.
Pollard-McCall Junior High was clear in all categories, also with a 57 percentile passing score.
W.S. Neal Middle School was rated clear with a watch and priority, a 43 percentile passing score for all students. Priority was earned for special education students, where it earned only a 17 percentile, and watch for a 33 percentile passing for black students and 39th percentile for free or reduced lunch students.
Escambia County Middle School was ranked as watch with priority, with a 32 percentile passing rate for all students, a 30 percentile passing rate for free or reduced lunch students, and a priority rating for black students, with only a 26th percentile score.
Gwen Walton, an administrative assistant in the school board office in charge of testing, explained that the state average is 51, but the nation average is 50.
But Walton is not willing to accept the 'all clear' ranking.
"We are striving to get all the schools at 100 percent," she said. "We work with the children on the skills, one-on-one, to help them grasp them. The skills and objectives are broken down and worked on everyday, even over the summer."
Is there anything else to make schools successful?
"The magic bullet? There isn't one," Walton said. "But if parents would read with children, go to the schools, see that the children are learning and progressing…not just go for the special programs, but really know what is going on with the children at the school," it would help tremendously.
According to the Alabama state department of education Web site, more and more studies are showing that poverty is a more accurate predictor of performance than any other category, except for special education.
Escambia County is something of an anomaly, though, because while Huxford Elementary has the highest percentile of free or reduced lunches, at 62, it is also the highest percentile of passing rates.
At the high school, it was stability and hard work that helped make the change happen, according to principal Jerry Smith.
"It was getting the kids and teachers to buy into the belief that they could do it," Smith said. "The kids can learn, you just have to trust them and believe in them."
Smith said he has been at the school for four years now. Before that, there had been four principals in four years.
"This is the first class of freshmen that has had the same principal," Smith said. He believes that should help even more, come testing time this year.
"There is no reason not to become a blue ribbon school," he said. "We don't have to be satisfied with this, we can set even bigger goals."