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Friday, April 28, 2017

Race to the Top
Angela G. Sapp, M. Ed.
Race To The Science Coordinator
Angela G. Sapp, M. Ed. Race To The Science Coordinator

The Gadsden County Public School (GCPS) district has an enrollment of approximately 6000 students. The district consists of one comprehensive high school, a middle/high school, two middle schools, eight elementary schools, three alternative programs, a charter school, and a technical learning program. Although the majority of the graded schools are "A" (4 elementary), "B" (1 elementary), and "C" (1 elementary and 2 middle) schools, the district has three elementary, a middle/high, and a high school with students struggling to make significant academic gains.

District-wide, percents of students meeting high standards remain lower than the state averages in every area except writing. Only 46% of GCPS students are meeting high standards in Reading and 22% are meeting high standards in Science. This data speaks directly to the district's plan to use Race to the Top dollars to implement strategies that will 1) improve teacher efficacy in Reading and Science instruction; 2) enhance the district's capacity to use data to target students needing additional academic support; 3) provide incentives for teachers to earn certifications for reading instruction; 4) offer performance pay to educators of students making significant academic gains; and 5) evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and administrators. It is the intent of the district to use the state's Race to the Top "Theory of Action" to address the specific needs of Gadsden County Public School as indicated by relevant assessment data. This includes but is not limited to teachers and administrators facilitating a culture of rigorous differentiated instruction and participating in data-driven professional development. Also, administrators will recruit effective teachers, use an assortment of performance standards to make informed instructional decisions, and ensure engaging curricula that are authentically assessed.

The Gadsden County Public Schools (GCPS) Race to the Top (RTTT) plan supports the state's Theory of Action that "highly effective teachers and leaders make the difference in student achievement" in that the plan's strategies focus on specific academic areas where student achievement requires significant growth. As indicated by FCAT assessment data, the two academic areas requiring significant growth are reading and science. Having identified the academic growth areas, the district's RTTT plan outlines strategies which allow teachers to improve their instructional practices in these two areas by engaging with other teachers in lesson study and other job-embedded, data-driven professional development such as CAR-PD (Content Area Reading Professional Development) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. The plan also outlines a strategy to offer incentives to teachers to participate in professional development that will help all teachers to become more effective teachers of reading, an academic content affecting student achievement in all areas of learning. In theory, increasing the effectiveness of teachers providing instruction in reading and science will strongly correlate with increases in the students' achievement in all areas of learning but specifically, the areas of reading and science.

The district's RTTT plan indirectly contributes to the state's student achievement goals of 1) doubling the percentage of incoming high school freshmen who ultimately graduate from high school and matriculate through at least one year of college; 2) cutting the achievement gap in half by 2015; and 3) increasing the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) by 2015. Research citing the U.S. Department of Education and the Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse (ERIC) identifies academic factors as a key indicator for students dropping out of school. Simply stated, students who receive poor grades and/or who repeat a grade-level are more likely to drop out. Non-proficient readers are most likely to receive poor grades and to repeat a grade-level. From this perspective, GCPS Race to the Top strategy of training teachers to become more effective instructors of reading supports the FLDOE goal of having more students successfully matriculate through the educational system. GCPS strategic focus on reading achievement, 1) enhances the students' ability to access course content through reading and 2) reduces the need for students to take reading intervention classes (in addition to the core classes required for graduation) rather than CTE or career interest classes. Students who are not over age and who have positive experiences in school, both with their core academic classes and career interests coursework, are more likely to matriculate on to post-secondary learning institutions.

The district's RTTT strategic plan focuses on reading and science instruction which also contributes to the states goals of closing the achievement gap and increasing the percentage of students earning proficient scores on the NAEP. The assumption is that increased teacher effectiveness in reading instruction will lead to more proficient readers. Proficient readers are more likely to master rigorous coursework for college and vocational programs. Proficient readers are also more likely to perform well on high-stakes exams such as the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) and the NAEP. Under the leadership of the current Superintendent, the district has progressed from a grade of "D" to a "C" for three consecutive years. District students have consistently made gains in every area of measurement on the FCAT, most notably in the areas of mathematics and writing.  Currently, 79% of district students are meeting high standards in writing and 58% of district students are meeting high standards in mathematics. Sixty-five of the district's bottom 25% made gains on the 2010 FCAT assessment in mathematics. Although gains have been made in Reading and Science, at 46% and 22% of students meeting high standards, district student performance in these areas is significantly lower than state averages. Also, district student achievement levels are significantly lower than 2011 AYP targets for Reading (86%) and mathematics (86%). White students outperform African American and Hispanic students in all areas of assessment. With the exception of Hispanics, all subgroups increased graduation rate by 2% or more for three consecutive years. The key goals for student achievement in GCPS focus on college and career readiness. Education reform success will be measured by the percent freshmen who enter high school, graduate, attend college, and attain at least year of college credit. The district's baseline data for these indicators are listed below. By 2015 GCPS hopes to double the percentage of 9th graders who eventually earn at least a year's worth of college credit. To double the percentage of 9th graders who eventually earn at least a year's worth of college credit, by 2015 GCPS will have a graduation rate of 76%, a college going rate of 76%, and a college credit attainment rate of 76%. 


Strategy 1: Improving Teacher Efficacy in Reading and Science. GCPS does not have a sufficient number of teachers certified to teach reading and/or trained to provide content area reading instruction. Race to the Top dollars will be used to offer reading certification and Content Area Reading Professional Development (CAR-PD) to district teachers at times that are convenient for teachers and for little or no cost to district teachers. Increasing the number of teachers qualified to provide reading instruction both in the reading classroom and other content areas will increase the number of students meeting high standards in reading. Training all teachers to provide instruction in reading will enhance the students' ability to understand key concepts in every subject area. This is especially true for the areas of mathematics, science, and Career Technical Education (CTE) where students are expected to apply and synthesize information learned. CTE offers alternative learning avenues for students to attain career goals. However, many students are not afforded opportunities to enroll in Career and Technical Education courses because their reading proficiencies require additional reading instruction. For this reason and although all teachers will be encouraged to participate in at least CAR-PD training, social studies, mathematics, science, and CTE teachers will be heavily recruited to participate in reading professional development opportunities. Science instruction is inhibited by both the students' ability to access science content through reading and the teachers' ability to provide hands-on relevant science lab activities. Therefore, Race to the Top dollars will be used to provide strategies for teaching reading in science that increase students' capacity to access science content, develop science labs which give students opportunities to experience rigorous hands-on science activities, and purchase instructional supplies, equipment, and technology for 21st Century science laboratories. Increasing teacher efficacy with teaching reading and science also support the district's goals of peer collaboration that results in rigorous and engaging instruction in all content areas and sustained student participation advanced course offerings such as AP/IBP/Dual Enrollment, enrollment in STEM programs, CTE certification, and participation in magnet programs.

Strategy 2: Increase District's Capacity to Use Data. Race to the Top dollars will be allocated to enhance the district's capacity to use data to target students needing additional academic support. A small percentage of Race to the Top dollars will be used to supplement the district's effort to provide a more user friendly student data system with a platform that is not only compatible with state data systems but presents student data in appropriate venues to district staff, parents and students in ways that the data is easily understood.

Strategy 3: Provide Teacher Incentives. GCPS struggles to employ a sufficient number of teachers to provide reading instruction to students because many teachers avoid obtaining reading certifications/endorsements and teachers with adequate certifications are reluctant to teach reading. The RTTT bargaining team representatives have agreed via a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Race to the Top dollars will be used to provide incentives for teachers to earn certifications for reading instruction. Teachers who earn a certification in reading and teach reading during the instructional day will receive a $1500 annual incentive for a period of time not to exceed the duration of the Race to the Top grant. Teachers completing all competencies of CAR-PD within the four year award period of the grant will receive a one-time only incentive of $1000.

Strategy 4: Offer Performance Pay. The RTTT bargaining team representatives have agreed via MOU that Race to the Top dollars will be used to offer performance pay to educators of students making significant academic gains. One hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) will be set aside to offer annual performance pay to certificated staff of schools with 65% of their students making learning gains. Initially, performance pay will be for learning gains in reading. Each year student data will be evaluated to determine the district-wide focus for learning gains performance pay.

Given GCPS current percent of students making learning gains (51%), it is anticipated that the first two years of performance pay will be based on reading learning gains. If 65% of a school meets performance pay criteria, all certificated staff will be eligible for a portion of the $100,000 annual performance pay allocated district-wide (not to exceed $2000 annually). Any teacher employed at a school that does not qualify for school-wide performance pay may qualify for individual performance pay, if 65% of his/her students make gains in reading.

Strategy 5: Teacher and Administrator Evaluation. Although discussions regarding the evaluation of teachers and administrators are on-going in the committee established to advise language relating to incentives and teacher evaluation, it is expected that an agreement will be reached in the spring of 2011 that is reflective of the criteria outlined in the Race to the Top MOU. The district's charter school, Crossroad Academy, will be eligible for participation in and services provided by grant strategies outlined under Strategy 1 and Strategy 2. The charter school will develop its own plans for strategies 3-5, per the nature of its operating guidelines that are established for schools designated as charter schools in the State of Florida.


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