Florida middle schools that overachieve in science: The 8th grade Science FCAT 70-70 Club

It is now almost trite to talk about demographics being destiny – that a student’s socioeconomic status determines that student’s educational outcomes, and that a school’s socioeconomic mix determines its overall achievement level, including its test scores.

In science, the link between socioeconomic and achievement levels is more complicated because science is generally not a high priority at schools where many students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and student achievement in reading is not assured.

So it’s all the more remarkable when a school with a large population of disadvantaged students manages to teach science well.  This can only happen when the school leadership believes science is important and the faculty has the knowledge and skill to execute an effective teaching program.  This combination is way too rare.

In the figure shown below, the percentage of students passing the 8th grade Science FCAT is plotted against the percentage of students receiving free and reduced price lunch for every public middle school in Florida for which statistics are available on the Florida Department of Education web site.

20158thgradeOn a macroscopic level, the plot shows what you’d expect – as the percentage of students on free and reduced price lunch increases, the science achievement level decreases.  But there is considerable spread, especially in the lower left quadrant, where schools with affluent students underachieve in science, presumably because science isn’t important.  Those schools really skew the trend line, which separates from the bulk of the data points at lower free and reduced price lunch percentages.

But in this post I want to focus on the positive – the schools in the upper right section of the graph, which are the ones with lots of low income students who overachieve in science.

Now let’s really zero in on the most overachieving schools – the schools with 70% or more of their students on free or reduced price lunch, and 70% or more passing the 8th grade Science FCAT.  We’ll call this exclusive group The 70-70 Club.

There are only three middle schools in this group:

Ben Gamla Charter School North Campus in Broward County, a small (76 students) school at which 87% of the students passed the 8th grade Science FCAT and 71% are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

Jose Marti MAST 6-12 Academy in Miami-Dade, a midsize (679 students) middle school where 76% of students passed the exam and 73% are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

Apalachicola Charter School in Franklin County, a smallish (326 students) middle school at which 77% of students passed the exam and everybody is on free or reduced price lunch.

Of course, the districts in which these schools are located couldn’t be more different.  Broward and Miami-Dade are megadistricts with numbers of students in the six figures.  Franklin County is a rural county located on the Gulf of Mexico.

Congratulations to all three of these schools for remarkable performances!

There’s lots of credit to share on this post.

Undergraduate assistant Connor Oswald compiled the data shown in the graph and identified the members of the 70-70 Club.  Connor will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physics in December, and he’ll then be looking for a high school teaching job.  If you’re interested in hiring him (and you should be), contact him via twitter at @MrRonnoc32.

The idea for this analysis came from Ron Matus at Step Up For Students, who is driven by his ambition for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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