How a drop in test takers during COVID could impact statewide 3rd grade reading scores in districts
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The ELA reading exam is usually considered a vital indicator of whether a student is ready to continue their academic career.

In fact, the number of test-takers in public schools dropped by 18,398 kids in 67 districts, compared to 3rd graders who took the state reading exam in 2019. That’s a decline of about 8%. (State exams were canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19).

Now, school districts are trying to figure out how much the declines have impacted test results for 2021. And that won’t be easy, in part because there are so many variables as schools struggled to test kids during the pandemic.

“At this time, it has not been determined how the decreased participation … may be related to the decreased performance profiles shown in the results,” according to officials at the Broward County school district.

In Broward, the number of 3rd graders who took the state reading exam was 2,609 students lower than 2019. That’s about a 13% drop in test-takers, according to a Florida Phoenix analysis comparing 2019 to 2021 state education data from the reading exams.

Meanwhile, Broward’s performance went down on the third grade exam for 2021 — 53% of 3rd graders passed the exam, compared to 60% in 2019.

Florida’s State Department of Education uses a score of 3 or above for a student to pass the reading exam. The 3 means “satisfactory — may need additional support for the next grade/course.” A 4 or 5 score would show proficiency or mastery in the subject.

The Phoenix analyzed data in 67 school districts for the number of students tested and the passing rates on the reading exams in 2019 and 2021.

Here are some of the findings:

Only four districts in the state increased performance on the third grade exam in 2021 compared to 2019.

Of those four districts, three — Jackson, Madison and Lafayette — had fewer third graders tested in 2021 compared to 2019. Sumter had more 3rd graders taking the reading exam compared to two years ago.

Overall, eight districts had the same passing rate on the reading exams in 2019 and 2021: Marion, Palm Beach, Orange, Hernando, Indian River, Washington, Calhoun and St. Johns.

Seven out of the eight districts had declines in the number of test-takers in 2021 compared to 2019.

St. Johns district was the only district in this group that increased the number of third grade test-takers in 2021 compared to 2019. St. Johns had the highest passing rate in the state, at 78%.

In all, 55 districts showed lower performance on the 2021 statewide reading exams compared to 2019.

Thirteen of the districts showed an increase in test-takers from 2019 to 2021. (Manatee, Santa Rosa, Charlotte, Glades, Taylor, Wakulla, Flagler, Osceola, Monroe, Union, Gilchrist, Baker, Hendry.)

The remaining 42 districts showed a decrease in test-takers from 2019 to 2021. (Liberty, DeSoto, Gadsden, Holmes, Hamilton, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Suwannee, Levy, Escambia, Broward, Hardee, Putnam, Volusia, Pinellas, Bradford, Miami-Dade, Polk, St. Lucie, Hillsborough, Martin, Seminole, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Pasco, Citrus, Leon, Duval, Highland, Lake, Alachua, Lee, Jefferson, Walton, Gulf, Collier, Brevard, Sarasota, Clay, Nassau and Bay.

For example, Hillsborough County declined in both categories: A decrease in test-takers — about 9% — and a decrease in performance.

However, the difference in performance was one percentage point. In 2021, the passing rate on the reading exam was 51%, compared to 52% in 2019.

“For us, we took that as a sign that it’s good news,” said Nicole Binder, executive director of assessments and accountability for the Hillsborough County school district.

She told the Phoenix that lower enrollment played a part in the smaller number of third graders tested for the reading assessment for her district.

“There could be a whole range of reasons. They could be at a different school, they could have enrolled in Florida Virtual School, they could be home-schooled — they were just not enrolled in public school,” Binder said.

Elsewhere, the news wasn’t good.

Such is the case for the small Glades County school district in South Central Florida. It had a small increase in test-takers in 2021 but a big drop in performance.

The passing rate was only 38% in 2021 compared to 62% in 2019.

Third grade scores on Florida’s English Language Arts assessment, shortened to ELA, or the reading exam, are usually considered a vital indicator of whether a student is ready to continue their academic career.

An emergency order released in April 2021 waived some of the high-stakes related to statewide standardized assessments. In a typical year, the third grade reading exam score would be required to determine if a student should be promoted to fourth grade or get held back a year. But the emergency order allowed students to be promoted “regardless of the absence” of a reading score for the 2020-21 school year.

Binder, from Hillsborough County, thinks that more data from other standardized tests will create a clearer picture of how students performed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s going to be much more telling when we get the remainder of the data and then we can have a much bigger picture of it,” Binder said. “This is just one grade level of one sample of students.”


Via Danielle Brown; republished with permission of Florida Phoenix.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida Phoenix

Florida Phoenix is a news and opinion outlet focused on government and political news coverage within the state of Florida.


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