Sarasota Schools Data Dig

Guest Correspondence

Graphic courtesy The Argus Foundation

Data is important to determine how you are doing and where you need to improve. Businesses use data every day and very regularly to identify weaknesses, trends and improve upon their product or service. If you are not using data frequently and monitoring trends, you will never improve and will likely eventually fail.

Last month Argus wrote a column using data from the Florida Department of Education website about the Sarasota County School District. We received a very strong reaction once that column was published. We had people from both within and outside of education reach out to Argus out of concern for this School District we all deeply care about.

This public response led to Argus creating a new social media campaign called “Sarasota Schools Data Dig.” On Mondays and Thursdays, we are releasing data on our school district obtained directly from the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE). Many of the charts are simply screenshots from the FLDOE website. This campaign, which can be searched using #SarasotaSchoolsDataDig, is available on our Facebook page and Twitter account, both at @ArgusFoundation.   

Our very first post was a comparison of our individual school grades from 2018-2019 and 2020-2021. It reached over 22,000 people, with over 4,000 post clicks. There were 761 who liked, commented or shared the post. All of this was organic, none of it was paid. There is clearly a public desire to understand the data for our district.

This data is important for our community, to understand what is happening in our district and to hold our elected officials and administration accountable. While we remain an “A” school district, we have some disturbing numbers from 2018-2019 to 2020-2021, and we also have disturbing numbers in comparison to the state average. 

A stand-alone number that should disturb everyone is our “Grade 3 English Language Arts Achievement.” In 2020-2021, our “A” District had 68% of students at grade level reading or above. Put another way, 32% of our then-third graders, now-fourth graders, in Sarasota County were behind last year. 

There were no scores or grading in the 2019-2020 year. To receive a letter grade in the 2020-2021 school year, individual schools had to opt into receiving a grade. Only five schools opted to receive letter grades last year. However, you are still able to see the scores of the schools and grade them yourself unofficially using the grading scale. 

We hand-scored each individual school in Sarasota County, and compared the grades from 2018-2019 to 2020-2021, and discovered that Sarasota County lost over half its “A” schools. This translates to 18 schools dropping from an “A” grade. Sarasota tripled its “C” schools, increasing from 4 schools to 12 schools. We also now have 2 “F” schools.

When you examine subgroups within these scores, there are important and disturbing revelations. Comparing data from 2018-2019 to 2020-2021, Hispanics dropped a letter grade from and “A” to a “B” and Students with Disabilities went from a “C” to a “D” grade. 

We have a disturbing number that will affect us for years to come, “Grade 3 English Language Arts Achievement” for Blacks/African Americans dropped from a “C” to a “D” grade. Only 36% of Blacks/African Americans in Sarasota County were on grade level or above last year. 

Argus believes we must find a better way to support our hard-working teachers and struggling students. This issue lies squarely on the laps of those in the Landings. We must begin to talk about academics and curriculum in a more meaningful way and address the ugly numbers and not just cheer for the good ones. We must come together as a community and make sure this generation is not left behind because political rancor on both sides is taking center stage. This is an important moment for our district.

Watch for more information on #SarasotaSchoolsDataDig on The Argus Foundation Facebook page and Twitter account.

Christine Robinson is executive director for The Argus Foundation.

Graphic courtesy The Argus Foundation

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