District looking into ninth-grade retention spike
SEBRING - The question of whatever happened to the Freshmen Foundations leads to another question: what happened to the ninth-grade retention rate, specifically, why 38 percent of the district’s ninth-graders failed to be promoted last year to 10th grade? The Freshmen Foundation concept started in 2006-07 to help students transition from middle school to high school with a focus on the three Rs: rigor, relevance and relationships. Lake Placid High stopped its Freshmen Foundation one or two years ago. Sebring High teacher and ninth-grade class sponsor Lisa Saenz said her school is still doing the Freshmen Foundation concept.Highlands Today was unable to reach an administrator or teacher at Avon Park High School for this story. With little input from the schools, who did not return repeated calls seeking comment, Highlands Today took a look at the data it requested from the school district. The district and high schools hoped the foundations would help lower the percentage of students who were retained in ninth-grade, which was 32.9 percent in 2005-06, the year before the Freshmen Foundations started. The retention rate improved to 27.5 percent after the first year of the foundations, but then there were ups and downs. Most recently, the ninth-grade retention rate increased to 34.9 percent in 2010-11 and increased again to 38 percent in 2011-12, which was the highest in the past seven years. The school-level ninth-grade retention rates for 2011-12 were: 44 percent for Lake Placid High, 38 percent for Avon Park High and 35 percent for Sebring High. Highlands Today asked Superintendent Wally Cox about the high ninth-grade retention rate and the Freshmen Foundations. Cox said Monday that during the downturn in the economy, there has been less emphasis on the Freshmen Foundations. He had to make some personnel cuts that affected the foundations, including eliminating the lead teacher, one dean and one guidance position from each school. Some of the high schools tried to continue to implement the Freshmen Foundation concept with their current staff, but some weren’t able to do as much, he said. “We think possibly the economy has had some impact with the kids working more and studying less to make ends meet at their homes,” he said. Due to Highlands Today’s inquiry, Cox said he is asking for thoughts from the three high school principals. He is also researching the effect of the end-of-course exams. “I think the ECOs might have had an impact,” he said. The Algebra 1 end-of-course exam was first administered in the 2010-11 school year and the Biology 1 and geometry EOC assessments were first administered in spring 2012. “We are going to continue to look at the data and try to make improvements,” Cox said. School Board Member Donna Howerton said she has always been an advocate of the Freshmen Foundation concept. Looking at the statistics, the board may need to look at the district budget this year to put things back in place in the foundations, she said.