By Donald Rodrigue
For Hometown News
MARTIN COUNTY -- The almost 19,000 students enrolled in Martin County Schools for the 2014-15 school year will notice several differences as they return to classes on Aug. 18.
Returning students to Spectrum and the Clark Advanced Learning Center will find new principals, Janice Mills and Debra Kohuth, respectively, while Michelle Villwock will be the new director over the Riverbend Academy at the Sandy Pines treatment facility in Tequesta.
District enrollment of 18,559 students to-date reflects a slight decrease in all grades except seventh grade, which is showing an increase, according to Martin County Schools Superintendent Laurie Gaylord. Last year's total enrollment was 19,462 students.
"Pre-K and kindergarten enrollments are not usually completed until the start of school, so it's really too early to correctly evaluate this number," Ms. Gaylord said.
The most noticeable difference to most students this school year will be the continual disappearance of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, or FCATs.
Only the students taking fifth and eighth grade science will have FCATs this year, while FCAT retakes will be given to students who tested low in math and reading on last year's exams.
Students will find new reading and mathematics exams in place of the FCATs, the Florida Standards Assessments, known simply as FSAs.
Unlike the primarily multiple-choice FCATs, FSAs are designed to test critical thinking skills by requiring students to more analytically interact with content by responding with written answers and even creating their own graphs and equations.
Just as with the FCAT, passing grades with the English Language Arts FSA in third grade are critical for advancement, and in 10th grade for graduation. Good cause exemptions for third graders will still be available for promotion as before. Students taking courses not being assessed by FSAs will be required to take an end-of-course or end-of-year exam. Tenth graders must earn a passing grade on the algebra 1 end-of-course exam in order to graduate. Students will be allowed the same number of retakes for the critical FSAs as they have been for the FCAT. According to the Florida Department of Education website, FSA exams in the spring will include algebra 1, geometry and algebra 2. Next Generation Sunshine State Standards end-of-course exams will include biology 1, civics and U.S. history.
Ms. Gaylord says all the district's schools will be focusing on the best instructional practices to ensure the success of students during the transition period from FCATs to FSAs.
"We will have a laser focus on the standards and these assessments," she said. "Our schools all have individual action plans with goals for achieving high standards for all students."
Although she says the Martin County School District is ranked "among the state's top performing school districts," and has the third-highest graduation rate, the district will not depend on its past successes.
"We will continue to strive to increase that rate, especially among our at-risk student populations," she said. "One of my goals as superintendent has been to get our financial house back in order and we are making progress. Working with district staff and school board members, our fund balance now meets the state's minimum requirement."
Ms. Gaylord has high expectations for student success in the new school year.
"A new school year always brings hope and optimism...a clean slate," she said. "I want each and every student to recognize that they have the ability to learn and grow, meet high standards, and achieve everything they set out to do."