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Miami-Dade, Palm Beach school districts maintain A grade, despite pandemic challenges

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While the state's calculation of school grades shows many districts are achieving learning gains, standardized testing results show many students continue to struggle with the basics of reading and math.

Despite the significant challenges, disruptions and trauma brought on by the pandemic, the Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County school districts have maintained their A grades, the Florida Department of Education announced Thursday. The results are the first full statewide accounting of school grades since 2019.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Miami-Dade Superintendent Jose Dotres said the A grade is a triumph for students, teachers and staff in the district, where more than 73% of children are designated as economically disadvantaged and about 20% are English Language Learners.

“99.5% of our schools have earned an A, B or C — after the pandemic — after so many of these challenges. Therefore, I believe we can be very encouraged by the academic recovery that we are seeing,” Dotres said.

Overall, just 14 of Florida’s 67 districts earned an A grade. The Monroe and Broward County school districts were rated a B.

In a written statement, Broward County schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said the district came just one percentage point shy of earning an A under the state’s school grade rubric.

“The grades reflect the hard work, dedication and commitment to ensure our students had the learning opportunities needed to overcome the unfinished learning brought upon by the pandemic,” Cartwright said. “As we prepare the District for the upcoming school year, we are encouraged and motivated to earn and surpass the one percentage point needed to make Broward County Public Schools an 'A' school district.”

The DOE uses up to 11 different factors to calculate a school’s grade, including student achievement on standardized tests and exams, student learning gains and graduation rates.

According to the DOE, some of the state’s lowest performing schools saw significant improvements, with 100% of schools that earned an F grade in 2019 improving their grades in 2022.

While district officials are celebrating the gains that schools have made, millions of Florida students are still struggling with the basics – and are still working to overcome the loss of learning and social emotional development brought on by the pandemic.

According to the results of this year’s Florida Standards Assessment, the state’s standardized test, roughly half of students grades 3-10 statewide earned a passing score of Level 3 or higher on English Language Arts and Math.

Asked how the A grade squares with the recent state test results, Dotres acknowledged that while learning gains are happening, proficiency remains a challenge for many students.

“We recognize that there are achievement gaps that we must attend to,” Dotres said. “There is an achievement gap task force that will press us and we will be very attentive to how we are doing in each of these areas, making sure that we attend to the needs of all students and proficiency levels.”

Another challenge students are facing is mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of high school students reported having poor mental health during COVID. More than half reported experiencing emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home.

“It speaks volumes about the dedication and commitment to excellence exhibited by every teacher, every administrator, support staff person and of course our students — our wonderful students — and the parents,” said Miami-Dade school board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman said. “Our district has demonstrated that if we all stand together and work together, remain committed and advocate for our children, the whole community succeeds and especially our children.”

School district officials and stakeholders across South Florida hope the school grade results will help them convince voters to renew local property taxes that will raise millions of dollars for school safety, teacher pay and mental health support. The Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe County school districts are all putting a tax referendum on the ballot this fall.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter