State education officials celebrated the 20th anniversary of Florida’s school grading system Thursday with a release of 2019 grades that in their words showed “monumental improvement” over past years.
More schools across the state earned A and B grades than last year, and fewer were marked as failing, they said, emphasizing gains made by some of the most struggling schools.
The number of D or F schools has declined 70 percent since 2015, and the number of F schools has declined 93 percent since 2015, the Florida Department of Education said.
Local officials, too, plucked good news from the blizzard of numbers and percentages released Thursday, with Pinellas County picking up on the “monumental” tag to refer to improved grades at many district schools.
But the numbers turned up some less flattering trends, too. Among them: Sixty-nine elementary schools in the Tampa Bay area are on a list of the state’s 300 lowest-performing elementary schools in reading.
Two schools in Tampa are at the very bottom of that list, with one ranking lowest in the percentage of students who passed their tests this year. Another was third from last.
Pinellas touted the fact that many of its schools maintained their grades from last year. But 32 of those were schools that simply hung on to a C or D. Another maintained its F.
Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins acknowledged the good and not-so-good in Thursday’s data dump from Tallahassee.
“I see strong progress and know that it’s all due to our school leaders, our teachers and our students,” he said, adding: “We will remain focused on those schools that have the greatest challenges.”
Two-thirds of Florida schools saw no change in their grade from this time last year, while 22 percent improved and 13 percent performed worse. Only 15 schools statewide earned an F rating for 2018-19, compared to 35 last year.
The ratings are calculated annually using up to 11 data points related to student achievement, learning gains on state tests and high school graduation rates.
Gov. Ron DeSantis celebrated the results, saying in a news release that the rankings show education in Florida is on a “successful trajectory.”
“We are resolute in our continued efforts to ensure that Florida students have the chance to receive a world-class education regardless of their circumstance,” he said. “I appreciate our state’s hard-working educators who made it possible and applaud our students on a job well done.”
In addition to schools, districts also receive overall grades. Twenty-four of Florida’s 67 school districts earned an A this year and 30 earned a B. No district earned a D or an F. Eight improved their grade from last year.
The four school districts in the Tampa Bay area maintained B grades, which they have all held for at least three years. Some of the highlights:
Hillsborough this year has four F schools, not including charters and alternative schools. It has 24 district-run D schools and three charter D schools. For the fourth consecutive year, the district leads the state in schools on the lowest-300 reading list with 43, a number that includes two charter schools.
The list of 300 is based on a three-year average of English language arts achievement and learning gains points.
Based on passing rates on this year’s tests, Tampa’s James Elementary was the lowest-performing reading school and Potter Elementary was tied for the third-lowest. Twenty of the 43 fell in the lowest 100.
This year’s numbers also measure the results of the first year under Hillsborough’s Achievement Schools initiative, which seeks to bring equity to 50 long-struggling schools, most of them in poor neighborhoods.
The results were mixed:
Foster Elementary, with low reading scores, dropped from a D to an F, joining Kimbell, Oak Park and James Elementary.
Ten Achievement Schools had their grades drop from C to D, while another 14 improved from D to C and two went from C to B. Shaw Elementary and Sulphur Springs improved from F to D. And Sheehy Elementary — one of three that were already under the supervision of a private company called an “external operator” — improved from a D to a C, meaning it is no longer required to use the operator.
“Overall, there were some bright spots,” said School Board chairwoman Tamara Shamburger, commending the development at Sheehy.
“While there’s been some improvement, we’re certainly still not out of the woods yet,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done.”
Schools with C’s were the biggest single group in Pinellas, with 42 getting that grade, not including charters and alternative schools. Thirty-three earned a B and 22 got an A. Five earned a D.
Only Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg was marked as an F — for the second year in a row.
Seven elementary schools saw a two-grade jump. Campbell Park and Ponce de Leon each moved from an F to a C. Bay Point jumped from a D to a B. Four schools — Curlew Creek, Leila Davis, Garrison-Jones and Shore Acres — moved from a C to an A.
Meanwhile, Southern Oaks Elementary in Largo fell two letter grades, from an A to a C.
School Board Chairwoman Rene Flowers said she was pleased with the district’s overall performance, but added there is work to do.
She said she wants district staff to “dig into” what happened at Lakewood Elementary. It is one of the schools in Pinellas’ “Transformation Zone,” which all have concentrated improvement plans.
Flowers, whose seat on the School Board represents some of those schools, praised gains at Campbell Park, which is one of the 13 districtwide.
Credit for improvement there should go to principal Kathleen Parker, who took over about two years ago, the chairwoman said. Parker and her staff have worked hard to drum up support for the school by holding community events and meals, as well as going door-to-door to connect with parents.
“Kudos go to the students, the principals for their leadership and encouragement, the teachers and support staff, and parents,” Flowers said. “They really gave it their all.”
Meadowlawn Middle in St. Petersburg improved most among middle and K-8 schools, moving from a D to a B. The majority of schools at that level maintained their grade from last year, though some rose or fell by one grade.
Azalea Middle dropped to a D from a C. Tarpon Springs Middle and Seminole’s Osceola Middle each fell from a B to a C. Largo Middle and Fitzgerald Middle each moved to a B from a C. And John Hopkins Middle in St. Petersburg improved one letter grade to a C.
Every high school in Pinellas kept its grade from last year, except for Pinellas Park High. It dropped one level to a C.
Twenty-eight of Pasco’s 87 schools received A grades, four more than last year. This year’s ranks included an inaugural A for Wendell Krinn Technical High, which opened last fall, as well as A’s for eight of the nine charter schools in the district.
Seven of the district’s elementary schools made the state’s lowest-300 list, including Hudson Elementary, which scored its second D in a row. Chasco Elementary also made the list, despite improving from a D to a C, and Rodney B. Cox Elementary dropped from a C to a D.
Twelve Pasco schools had better grades this year than last year, including Anclote Elementary, which received a C and avoided the bottom-300 list. Only six got worse grades than last year — among them Fivay High, the district’s only non-elementary school to get a D.
Pasco officials celebrated a decrease in the number of schools under state review and praised students teachers for holding the district steady at a B.
“I am proud of these positive strides,” superintendent Kurt Browning said in the release.
Of Hernando’s 24 public and charter schools, five received A grades. One of those, Gulf Coast Academy, is a charter school, and two others — Chocachatti Elementary and Challenger K-8 School — are magnet schools. The fourth, Powell Middle, jumped this year from a B to an A, for the school’s first A since 2011.
Four other Hernando schools improved their grades this year, including Suncoast Elementary, which scored a C after sinking to a D last year. Three schools landed worse grades than last year, including Eastside Elementary, which dropped from an A to a C.
Moton Elementary, Hernando’s most struggling school in recent years, again landed on the state’s lowest-300 list. But it scored a C grade, the same as last year, and will again avoid the state takeover it once faced after a string of D’s.
“They’re doing what they can,” Hernando School Board Chairwoman Susan Duval said of Moton, adding that the school hasn’t had a stable staff or administration in recent years.
“Is it where we want? Nope,” Duval said. “But there’s hope there.”
Hernando officials praised their district’s gains in a news release, pointing to Springstead High and Nature Coast Technical High, which both came within a few percentage points of earning an A.
Gina Michalicka, area superintendent of teaching and learning, said the district will use the school grade data to create a path forward for the upcoming school year.
“Where there is growth, we will use that success to fuel continued improvement,” she said. “For areas of concern, we will provide the best resources we can and support those schools as they develop and implement their action plan for improvement.”