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Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 12:20 pm | Updated: 12:23 pm, Fri Aug 15, 2014.

  Editor’s note: this is part three of our four-part series on education and school choices. This week focuses on the different public school options available, and the upcoming changes to the school grading process.

  When deciding on which pubic school option best suits your student, one must first understand the differences in the available options.

  A traditional high school with standard educational courses available is slowly becoming something not often seen.

  Instead, schools of choice or academy-based schools are populating the list of options more quickly.

  In addition, a traditional high school like South Dade has now transitioned to being one that also includes advanced academic academies in addition to standard high school classes available.

  With the need for a higher level of academic achievement in our increasingly competitive world comes the need for higher academic facilities.

  “There are a lot of options for students and parents alike,” said Dr. Larry Feldman of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools school board. “You can choose between somewhere like a MAST at Homestead for a more rigorous course load or somewhere with a more traditional high school experience and still get a high quality education.”

  Indeed, Feldman will tell anyone willing to listen of the increasing quality of learning in Miami-DadeCounty.

  “I can literally walk the halls of any school we have and see something great in each one,” Feldman stated. “No matter the grade, there is something good going on everywhere.”

  Part of the positives gained through the rebirth of a struggling program is that of what used to be CampbellDriveMiddle School in Homestead.

  The school recently registered an “F” grade for the 2013-2014 school year, leading to its complete re-branding and re-shuffling.

  Campbell Drive Middle was merged with Campbell Drive K-8 Center, located on the otherside of the fence from the Homestead educational staple.

  Now, what was formerly an “F” school will now be one of the highest standard learning facilities in the state.

  Renamed the Center for International Education, the new school is a CambridgeAssociateSchool.

  What does this mean?

  In essence, anyone graduating from the 9-12 grade school will qualify for the maximum Florida Bright Futures tuition scholarship, and can earn up to 45 hours of college credit while still in high school.

  Additionally, graduates will be awarded a Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), showing that they have a proven record of success at a university level.

  Like its name suggests, the new program is part of England’s world-renowned University of Cambridge.

  For parents and students interested in a hearty study load, more career specific options exist as well.

  An academy-based school of choice may be the perfect fit.

  RobertMorganEducationCenter combines the feel of a traditional high school experience with the valuable hands-on experience that an academy provides.

  With successful programs in subjects that vary from drama to music, welding, graphic design, veterinary medicine, and more, graduates can leave their specific program with either completed or partially completed certifications in differing specialties.

  Other schools such as Air Base Elementary School instill a background of international education at an early age, providing a solid base for students at a higher learning level than that of a standard school.

  CoralReefSenior High School is another successful school of choice with academies.

  Dubbed “Miami’s Mega-Magnet,” the school has widely successful drama and engineering departments, as well as a popular legal and public affairs academy.

  “If you want to go into the medical field, you’re going to go to MAST at Homestead,” stated Feldman.

  Noted as a highly successful institution that offers students the ability to graduate with college credits, MAST at Homestead has quickly grow into one of the most competitive programs in the county.

  “Our school offers a more rigorous option for education,” said MAST at Homestead principal Lisa Noffo. “Students and parents who come here have to understand the work load required.”

  Whatever the school you choose, Miami-Dade County Public Schools boast a higher high-school graduation rate than the state average.

  While Florida as a whole has a total graduation rate of 71 percent, Miami-DadeCounty recorded a 77.2 percent graduation rate in 2013.

  This number is up over 15 percent in the last five years alone, proof that the move to modernize education in Miami-DadeCounty’s public schools is succeeding.

  The decision on which school fits a student best is not always easy to decide either from mere research, and often times requires an in-person visit.

  “The best thing I can suggest is to stop by the school and take a tour,” Dr. Feldman stated. “Call them up and ask if you can see a classroom and see the campus.”

  An in-person school tour gives parents and students the ability to see the educational process in action, showcasing its differences from traditional school learning practices and a more career-focused educational base.

  Perhaps one of the most overlooked options available to a segment to students is the assistance given to military members and their families.

  Often lost in the shuffle of moving from deployment location to deployment location, students can be tossed from one school to the next.

  Miami-Dade County Public Schools is actively working to solve the issue of finding school placement for military children.

  “If you have gotten your transfer orders to come to Miami, we will find a place for your student,” said Dr. Feldman of the program. “We will work with the schools and academies and your child will have a seat held for them at their school of choice when you arrive.”

  When it comes to deciding which school to attend, another factor that parents and students look at is a school’s end of the year grade, given by the Florida Department of Education after each school year.

  To that end, the biggest change to the scoring matrix is the standardized test that determines a big portion of the school grade.

  The FCAT is no more.

  In its place is the Florida Standard Assessment which aligns with the newly adopted Florida standards (replacing the previous “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards”).

  But before students celebrate the demise of the FCAT, it is important to realize the new test might be more challenging, albeit a different type of challenge.

  The test is designed to be more rigorous in an effort to hit all the standards taught and it is also a different kind of test.

  Fully computer based from 5th to 11th grade, the test goes beyond the usual multiple choice and two line short response questions. “Students will be required to highlight parts of passages and drag and drop,” said Gisela Feild, Administrative Director Assessment, Research, and Data Analysis for Miami Dade Public Schools. “It requires the students to use more test formats, it’s a very different test.”

  Other changes to the test include the elimination of the writing component and the change of the Reading section to a more all encompassing English Language Arts to go along with the Mathematics section.

  With widespread changes, the state is still working out exactly how all the components will fit together to calculate the final school grade.

  End of Course exams will still play a big part, with EOC’s for Algebra I and II, Geometry, Biology, US History and Civics for Middle School students.

  Elements like graduation rates and adequate yearly progress are expected to continue factoring in to school’s grades.

  Given the implementation of the new system, the first round of testing will serve more to establish a baseline and teachers, students and the districts will not be held accountable until the 2015-16 school year.

  Miami Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvahlo has stated that there is no need to rush into the new assessment, especially considering the test was not field tested with Florida students, but rather kids from other states.

  There will be growing pains, but one thing that has not changed is that if students, teachers and parents work together and work hard, success can be achieved.

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