Sarasota School District Sinking in District Rankings

Guest Correspondence

District and school scores are published on schools throughout the state of Florida. It is a unique ability to compare school districts and schools and understand where we are at. While COVID has put a hiccup into how these scores are used, and there are no letter grades for most individual schools, we can still compare data points.

The good news is that we are still an “A” school district and that rating is an important one to keep. But we are barely keeping that grade by the skin of our teeth. 

A five-year review gives us four years of data to examine, with one year missing due to COVID. We had been on an upswing since the 2016-2017 year, showing improvements in our ranking, our “Total Points Earned as a District” and our “Percentage of Total Possible Points” until the 2018-2019 year. There was no data due to COVID from the 2019-2020 year.

But we now have data for last year, the 2020-2021 year, and it is troubling. It is the “Percentage of Total Possible Points” that tells us whether we are an “A” District. Unfortunately, we are scaringly only 2 percentage points from becoming a “B” District.  We suffered a 4% drop from the 2018-2019 year and we dropped from being ranked the third best school district in the state to now sixth.

We see more metrics in our schools dropping after they were on a positive rise. Our graduation rate dropped a point and a half after being on an uphill trend since 2016-2017. While we are doing better than the state average, our Math Learning gains overall took a large hit, dropping over 15 percentage points over two years. This is a terrible drop for our kids. Blacks/African Americans saw a staggering loss of 17.7% in this area.

This troubling number on math gains caused me to take a closer look at the achievement gap in Sarasota County in math and I was horrified by what I found. The math achievement gap in Sarasota County is 39 percentage points. Yes, a 39-point differential between whites and blacks. Our differential problem is worse than the statewide problem by five percentage points.

English is just as bad; there is a 35-point achievement gap differential between whites and blacks in English. Our English achievement gap in Sarasota County is six percentage points worse than the gap statewide.

To make matters worse, the state keeps a list of the 300 lowest performing schools in the state and we have a school on that very list, Booker Elementary School. That’s right, here in Sarasota County, we have a school that is low performing. While schools had to opt in to get grades, Booker technically did not get an official grade. But if they had, it would be a “D” if you look at its Percentage of Total Possible Points. 

Finally, we have two unofficial “F” schools— schools failing our kids. Wilkinson Elementary School also did not get an official grade, but is now an “F” school if you look at the Percentage of Possible Points, dropping two grades from a “C” school in 2019. Charter school Suncoast School for Innovative Studies also received an unofficial “F,” down from a “C” in 2019.

This cannot continue. 

As a community we should not accept this and we should not accept excuses because there will be plenty of them.  I can hear all of the rationalizations already: COVID, angry parents (who should be angry by the way), “look over here at this and not at the numbers,” etc. By the way, Sarasota faced these same issues that the three school districts who jumped ahead of us faced. 

No. We should reject each and every justification and hold this majority School Board accountable for failing our kids. They have complete and total control over the budget, policy and their meeting agendas. There is no one to blame other than the image in their mirror. It is time they stopped warring with parents, the Governor and the Legislature and take significant action in academics. We can’t afford to lose this generation.

Christine Robinson is executive director of the Argus Foundation.

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