Niceville High School has plenty of smart kids – and the test scores to prove it. The most recent test scores for state standardized tests, known as the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST), showed an improvement from last year – which was already head and shoulders above the state average.
“The lion’s share of all of the recognition has to go to teachers,” said Niceville High School Principal Charles Marello, “the most powerful impact on student achievement is the teacher in that classroom.”
Niceville’s High Schoolers saw gains across all testing categories, including a ten-point jump in Geometry to 85%. Statewide, only 49% of students tested at an ‘On-Grade-Level’ proficiency in that subject.
Okaloosa County students tested better than average on the whole as well. The district placed fifth of 67 school districts in the state. The district was 8th in 2021 and 7th in 2022.
“Our teachers, support professionals, administrators, and parents did a tremendous job this year helping our students be successful with the new standards,” Superintendent Marcus Chambers said. The comprehensive assessment results can be found here.
The testing results are separated into five scores that range from one at the lowest to five at the highest and are an amalgamation of the number of questions they answer correctly. Threes, fours, and fives are considered proficient enough to move on to the next grade level. Threes, considered ‘On-Grade-Level,’ have high enough scores to move on to the next grade. Fours, considered ‘Proficient,’ will likely succeed at the next grade level. Five’s should do very well at the next grade level. To graduate from high school, students must score at a specific range on their 10th-grade progress monitoring test.
The progress monitoring scores test all students, not just the ones on a college preparatory track. Marello noted that the change to the FAST test, which replaced the FSA test, created some anxiety about test results that were not warranted. “I would think it would have been normal for a year with new standards and assessments to score pretty low and we just knocked it out of the park.”
While the scores were good for the students at Niceville High School, the changes wrought by the State Government have also meant some logistical challenges and benefits for the district.
The more frequent progress monitoring tests, which occur thrice yearly, mean administrators have had to find places to ensure students can take the tests. “If you’re talking ninth and tenth grade, you got 1,100 kids to get tested not once, not twice, but three times per year. So, I wish the media center wasn’t the testing hub and stayed an actual library media center. But it’s occupied for testing more often than it’s available to check out a book,” Marello said.
Construction may soon alleviate the media center of some of its testing duties shortly; an all-purpose building, constructed with half-cent sales tax funds, will get at least some use from the school as a testing center during the school year for Niceville’s more than 2,000 students at the capacity institution.
However, the more frequent testing isn’t a pure negative. More testing means more data points for teachers to use as they refine their lesson plans for students several times yearly. This feedback from standardized testing during the school year allows for course corrections at the individual student and cohort levels. “I’m a fan of being able to make purposeful adjustments along the way, you’re getting real-time data.” Marello said of the testing.
A glance at the test scores shows Niceville had an across-the-board good school year in the academic realm. But Principal Marello looks toward the future and the opportunity to continue the educational mission’s upward trajectory. He says a new cadre of teachers teaching Advanced Placement (AP) Courses for the first time have taken summer courses to learn strategies to teach them more effectively this year. Our ACE and AP scores continued to come up as well. But, at one time, we were at a click even a little higher than that,” Marello said, “We’d really like to get to the point where we were. At one point, we were above a 70% pass rate. Currently, two-thirds of students taking AP classes will score a passing grade or higher on the test.