When it comes to education in Florida, often a test is more than just a test.
This year's state education test results may be able to shine a little indirect light on how our youngest learners are faring.
State standardized testing has had several iterations in the state, with the Florida Standards Assessment replacing the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) a couple of years ago. The FSA is a big deal.
It is used not only to help track a student's progress through school, but also the results are used in part to evaluate teachers on their job performance. On June 8, the state released results of the 2017 FSA.
Statewide scores in language arts and math were on a small rise, inching up 2 percentage points from the results the year before.
The full results, including school-by-school reports, are available here.
Overall, language arts scores in Escambia County rose — from 48 percent in 2015, to 51 percent in 2016, and up to 59 percent in 2017.
Countywide Escambia math scores saw 54 percent of students pass the FSA. The state average was 62 percent.
Santa Rosa County language arts scores also rose — from 67 percent in 2015, to 70 percent in 2016, to 74 percent in 2017. Math scores saw 74 percent of third graders pass the FSA.
The state considers "passing" the FSA as scoring at level 3 or above on a scale of 1-5.
These third-graders were kindergartners in the 2013-2014 school year. That's the last school year that the state released the results of the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS).
In that year, only 66 percent of Escambia County kindergartners were "kindergarten ready" — which means about one-third of our children didn't have some of the early academic and social skills they need to be ready for school.
Data can't tell us everything. But here's one bit of light this data can shine on how those kindergartners were doing in school by the end of their third-grade year.
Only 59 percent of them passed the language arts portion of the test; the state average is 58 percent. Only 54 percent of them passed the math portion.
Our students are much more than the sum of their test scores. But what test scores do tell us about our students is that many of them are not where they need to be to have the best chance for success not only in school, but also in life.
It's why projects like the ones that Studer Community Institute are undertaking to create an Early Learning City in Pensacola are so important.
Projects like the IMPACT Brain Bags, early literacy gift bags that come with a lesson on early brain development — and some tools to help parents build a baby's brain from the start. Moms who give birth in Escambia County's three hospitals are getting these bags — and getting an important lesson on how by talking, reading and interacting with their child from the first days of life can literally wire that child's brain for success.
Projects like the parent outreach efforts SCI in undertaking. We will conduct parent teaching groups in a partnership with the Area Housing Commission (first as a pilot at two housing complexes, then to expand), to help parents with kids under the age of 4 get coaching they need to understand and do more parent talk. That also includes a mother mentoring program that we are developing.
Parent outreach also includes being a pilot community for the LENA Start program, a series of 13, weekly parenting classes that coach and teach parents about talking more, tuning in to their young children, etc. We will start those classes at three sites in August (Dixon Center Early Head Start, one group culled from neighborhood childcare centers in the area roughly near Weis Elementary, and one from Child Discovery Center at First Presbyterian Church.) We will expand to up to seven more sites January and we are working on recruiting those locations now.
Projects like Making Play Smart, an effort to build early learning tools and concepts into the fabric of public spaces, community centers, parks and other locations. We are fundraising now to support this effort to purchase and place sets of playground decals/signage to encourage parents with young children to learn in a fun, easy way.
And projects with our partners at the University of Chicago to expand brain development teaching in hospitals. That includes bringing the Newborn Intervention from the University of Chicago to local hospitals. The intervention is on an iPad and is shown to new moms before they leave the hospital. Our mothers will be part of the pool of parents who help the team in Chicago improve and refine the educational video so that it can benefit even more women in the future.
Our work is important because of data like that released on June 8.
It's important for the economic future of our community, which needs workers who are skilled enough to adapt to what the working world will ask of them.
It's important to help ensure that has many children as possible get the best chance they can have to succeed in school, pursue their education and follow their dreams.
And it's important because as a community, we cannot afford to leave behind such a large percentage of our citizens, our workers and our future taxpayers behind.