Sarasota Students Improved Overall, But Minorities Left Behind

Guest Correspondence

Sarasota County Schools fared well in school grades this past year. We maintained an “A” grade and are in a three-way tie for fifth in district rankings. Recently, race and subgroup information has been published by the Department of Education and we are able to take a deeper dive into how our district is serving different types of students.

While we have seen some improvements in scores, we are still seeing minorities continuing to score poorly in comparison to white students and we need to focus in on these kids for our future. 

The school district received a 65% total of percentage points to earn its “A”. White students earned an “A” score of 69%, exceeding the district total percentage by four points.  When you look at Black/African American students, their grade did not change, they are still at a “C” grade and scored 50%. While this was a 5% improvement from the previous year, and the gap between whites and blacks shrunk 3%, Blacks/African Americans are 19% behind white students. 

A deeper dive into assessments scores reveals a much deeper racial disparity. The Department of Education has 5 levels of results. They specifically target the scores for Level 3 and up. The state defines Level 3 as “Satisfactory,” Level 4 as “Proficient,” and Level 5 as “Mastery.” Incidentally, the “Satisfactory” level still means that the student, “may need additional support for the next grade/course.”

In English Language Arts, white students had 68.6% in the Level 3 and up range.

Black students had 36.9% in the Level 3 and up range in English Language Arts. 

The English Language Arts achievement gap is at 31.7% in Sarasota County. Almost 2/3rds of black students had scores that the state deemed “Below Satisfactory” at Level 2 or “Inadequate” at Level 1. To give it perspective, 37.2% of black students scored at the lowest level and were deemed “Inadequate.” According to the state, these students are “highly likely to need substantial support for the next grade/course.”

The racial disparity in math was even larger. White students had 71.7% who scored at a Level 3 and up. Conversely, Black/African American students had 36.4% score at Level 3 and up. That is a 35.3% achievement gap between whites and Blacks/African Americans in math. The percentage of Blacks/African Americans who were at a Level 1 or “Inadequate” in math was at 39.8%.

Hispanic students earned a “B” again this year and earned a 59% score. They improved 2 points from last year. The gap between whites and Hispanics was stagnant in comparison to the previous year, it remains at 10%. 

Hispanic students had 52% of students who were at Level 3 and up in English Language Arts. That makes a 16.6% Achievement Gap with white students. There were 23.2% of Hispanic students at Level 1 or “Inadequate.”

Math also had a larger achievement gap for Hispanic students vs. white students. The gap stood at 17.6%. Hispanic students at Level 3 and up stood at 54.1%. Over a quarter of Hispanic students were at Level 1 or “Inadequate,” that percentage was at 26.5%.

These numbers need to be addressed with laser focus, and not just in prevention for incoming school age children, but in helping the current students who were a part of these scores. It is important that we urgently and immediately support our teachers and students with classroom resources and measurable curriculums that help these specific students. We can’t afford to wait months on end for studying these numbers and School Board presentations.       

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

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