Education Department: In-person learning led to better 3rd grade reading test scores
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Cartoon style school elements - book, pen, pencils and red apple on desk in empty classroom closed on qurantine covid-19. 3D rendering illustration. Back to school design template.
Pass rates for FSAs provide evidence, though not consistently across all districts.

Florida’s Department of Education says high rates of in-person instruction in school districts correlated to better results in third grade reading assessments. At the same time, data shows most districts saw lower performance this year than recorded before the pandemic disrupted education plans across the state.

The DOE released district results for all districts for the year. The district compared results of the Florida Standards Assessments from the 2019 and 2021 school years; no FSA testing was conducted in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“With 68% of students on campuses full-time and 80% on-campus full- or part-time, I am grateful to report that 97% of Grade 3 students tested in-person in Spring 2021,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. “Moreover, preliminary results show that between 92 to 94% of students took Florida’s state tests (ELA Writing, ELA Reading, Mathematics and end-of-course exams).”

After sending all schools into remote learning at the end of the 2019-2020 school year at the start of the pandemic, state leaders required all districts this school year to make in-person learning available five days a week.

“On June 11, 2020, Commissioner Corcoran and I stood with our school district superintendents and said our schools will be open,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Throughout the year we continued to work with districts to get struggling students on campus full-time to stop learning loss and the possibility of widening achievement gaps. With overwhelming data to support our decisions, we stood firm for our students, families and their teachers. We can now say without hesitation that this generation of Florida’s K-12 students are positioned for success better than any other state in the nation.”

The result? Only four districts in the state (Jackson, Madison, Sumter and Lafayette) recorded an improvement in the percentage of third-graders reading at their grade level or above. But all had 89% or more of students choose in-person learning this year.

Jackson County saw a 4% improvement in scores, jumping from a 58% pass rate in 2019 to a 62% pass rate in 2021. About 97% of students chose in-person learning this year in that district, and just 1% chose remote learning environment; another 2% were enrolled in a traditional virtual school model.

Meanwhile, the greatest drop in pass rates occurred in Glades County. Only 38% of third-graders’ reading ability tested at grade level, a 24% decline in performance from 2019. In that district, 64% of students chose in-learning instruction, and 35% chose innovative instruction.

Hendry County reported the lowest percentage of in-person learning of any county school district in Florida, with just 52% of students in classrooms. Pass rates there dropped from 47% in 2019 to 37% this year, a 10-percentage-point drop.

The UF Lab School and the FAMU Lab School, which operate outside of any school district, had 100% of students on an innovative instruction model this year. Pass rates at FAMU Lab School dropped from 50% to 35%, a 15-percentage-point drop, while the UF Lab School’s pass rate dropped from 85% to 64%, a 21-percentage-point decline. Meanwhile, the FAU Lab School had 52% of students learn in-person while 48% went on an innovative model, and the pass rates for FSA third grade level reading tests held steady at 77%.

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Corcoran said results show the success of promoting in-person learning all year.

“I am so grateful for the support of Gov. DeSantis and district superintendents like Pinellas County’s Mike Grego in crafting the supports and flexibilities needed to ensure Florida could lead the nation in in-person instruction and ensuring that we assess the progress of so many of our students,” Corcoran said.

“Getting our students on campus and ultimately informing those students, their parents, and their teachers about their academic progress put Florida families and teachers in the driver’s seat to make decisions in the best interest of their children’s growth.”

At the same time, the correlation between in-person learning and FSA pass rates was not demonstrated to be consistent.

Union County, the only district in Florida to report 100% of students used in-person instruction for the school year, saw a 6-percentage-point decline in pass rates, from 69% in 2019 to 93% in 2021. There were four school districts (Franklin, Hamilton, Holmes and Monroe), where more than 95% of students enrolled in in-person learning, but the decline in pass rates exceeded 10 percentage points.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


One comment

  • monday

    June 28, 2021 at 9:19 am

    The truth of the matter is America is one of the less top dogs in education. technology. math, history. I have to say competing with japan and china when their physics is high school level., but what do I know.
    I heard that someone from wired was a serious hacker.
    maybe I am stupid I come from a different part of the world.

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