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Florida releases 2023 school grades based on new tests

Schools will not face consequences for the results, which are considered a baseline for future years.
 
Third grade students participate in a dual language course at Hillsborough County's Crestwood Elementary, which received a B grade from the state on Monday, matching its grade from last year.
Third grade students participate in a dual language course at Hillsborough County's Crestwood Elementary, which received a B grade from the state on Monday, matching its grade from last year. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 11, 2023|Updated Dec. 12, 2023

Florida’s long-awaited school grades arrived on Monday, with none of the negative consequences that came with them in the past.

Results from the state Department of Education showed that the Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts earned B grades overall. Among their schools, including charters:

  • Hillsborough had 73 A’s, 42 B’s, 110 C’s, 32 D’s and six F’s. The district also had six incomplete grades. This total includes two IDEA charter schools, which are listed separately in the state report.
  • Pinellas had 42 A’s, 31 B’s, 38 C’s and four D’s.
  • Pasco had 18 A’s, 19 B’s, 24 C’s, 12 D’s and two F’s. It also had four incomplete grades.
  • Hernando had two A’s, nine B’s, 10 C’s and one D.
Related: Click here to check your school's grade

Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning said he was “overall pleased” with the results, which saw Chasco and West Zephyrhills elementary schools boost their previous F grades to D’s. Ten other district schools also improved their marks.

He noted that this year’s grades did not include points for students who showed learning growth. “Had growth been included, we would have seen more schools improving,” Browning said.

He added the district will use the information to direct attention to schools with the greatest deficits, including the two F-rated elementary schools, Gulf Highlands and Fox Hollow.

The absence of points for growth also tipped the numbers in Hillsborough, which has labored in recent years to reduce its number of D and F schools, not including charters. District leaders were proud to see that number fall to 14 schools in 2021 and 2022. But it climbed to 32 this year.

Without accounting for growth, the grading formula “doesn’t capture all the hard work teachers and schools did,” Superintendent Van Ayres said Monday.

However, he and other administrators said the data will help them pinpoint areas where they need to focus.

“Proficiency is what we’re after,” Ayres said. “We want all of our students to be 3 (the passing level on a scale of 1 to 5) and above. We don’t want any D’s or F’s. This is our baseline.”

Deputy Superintendent Shaylia McRae and Chief Academic Officer Colleen Faucett said they are optimistic about the state of instruction in Hillsborough schools. The district has settled into a consistent English/language arts curriculum after several years of adjustment, with a renewed emphasis on grades K-2 that they believe will bear fruit.

About two-thirds of the schools on the D and F list are largely empty, as the communities around them opt for magnet and charter schools. Vacant seats caused the district last year to look for some schools to close or consolidate.

Pinellas Superintendent Kevin Hendrick pointed to “tremendous” results at several campuses, including Tyrone Middle, the district’s only F-rated school last year. Tyrone rose to C, one of 10 middle schools to improve their grades.

Hendrick attributed that to the district’s focus on improving the middle school experience for students. He also noted that 13 Pinellas schools improved to A’s and 13 rose to B’s from the previous year.

Hernando officials noted that five of the district’s schools improved one letter grade. Eastside Elementary, the district’s only turnaround school, rose to a C from a D.

”We’ll use this data and refocus on the 2024 action plan,” Superintendent John Stratton said. “Students don’t stop learning and growing; neither will we.”

Usually released in the summer, this year’s grades were delayed because the state transitioned to new standards and tests that provide the basis for the A through F marks. The scores are not comparable to past years.

The State Board of Education did not adopt new scale score ranges until October. Those are the numbers that determine how well a student scored on a scale of 1 to 5.

Because of the changes, schools will be able to use the results as indicators of where they did well and need improvements in the new system. But they will not face the prospect of having to adopt turnaround plans or otherwise come under state oversight if their performance declined.

Schools that show improvement, however, will have the opportunity to qualify for bonus money based on strong performance and leave state turnaround status.

“These school grades serve as a baseline for districts and provide a starting point for future achievement,” state education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said in a statement.

Department of Education spokesperson Cailey Myers said the use of “progress monitoring” tests throughout the year should help schools work with students to determine where they have strengths and weaknesses. She said that will give them time to prepare for tests in the spring that assess each student’s knowledge based on a full year of classes.

Schools are in the middle of the second progress monitoring cycle, with the final round of tests starting May 1.

Educators already have been using the mid-year results to guide instruction, with district officials pointing to the data as a way to show the gains students make over time. Progress monitoring tests students on material from the entire year, including subject matter they have not yet seen.

Florida has issued school grades since the late 1990s, as part of the test-based accountability model established by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. State lawmakers have proposed doing away with some of the high stakes attached to the third- and 10th-grade testing — something Bush has not supported — but they have not taken any steps to eliminate testing or school grades.

(Editor’s note: This report has been updated from an earlier version, which misstated the Hillsborough County numbers.)

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Spotlight on education

The public is invited to a community conversation about the future of Florida public schools on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Tampa Theatre, hosted by the Tampa Bay Times. In the second installment of the Spotlight Tampa Bay series, Times journalists will moderate a discussion by experts, followed by a panel featuring students. Tickets are $20; $10 for students. Proceeds benefit the Times’ Journalism Fund. To purchase tickets, click here.