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Alachua County student performance continues to decline

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

The 2021-22 school year assessment data is now available from the Florida Department of Education. As suggested by third-grade reading scores reported in May, Alachua County Public Schools has not recovered from the massive drop in student performance that resulted from their misguided policies on equity and COVID-19.

In August 2018, the school district  announced an equity plan with a 10-year goal of narrowing the performance gap between white and black students. After the first year (2018-19), overall student performance dropped, and the performance gap actually increased.

COVID-19 gave school administrators an excuse to skip testing and avoid accountability for the 2019-20 school year, but the 2020-21 school year continued the trend in the wrong direction: overall performance decreased in both English and math, and the black-white gap continued to grow in both areas.

The 2021-22 data (above) shows that while average state scores in English Language Arts (ELA) improved slightly, the scores in Alachua County continued the downward trend caused by the COVID-19 response. In Alachua County, the percentage of students scoring a 3 (“meets standards”) or better in ELA fell from 53.3% to 52.1%. The black-white gap improved slightly from 46.3 to 45.0 percentage points, but despite all the school board’s efforts, the gap is essentially unchanged from 2014-15 (the earliest data in the Florida PK-20 Education Information Portal). During those seven years, the performance gap, which is simply the difference between the percentage of white students scoring 3 or better and the percentage of black students scoring 3 or better, has improved slightly in the state, dropping from 31.0 to 27.3 percentage points.

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In 2021-22, the percentage of Alachua County students scoring a 3 or better in math (above) only rose from 48% to 49%, and the black-white gap held steady at 46 percentage points (68% whites vs. 22% blacks scoring a 3 or better). The math scores combine FSA results with Algebra and Geometry end-of-course (EOC) assessments. For the four years before the equity plan, the performance gap averaged 43.3 points. Since the 2018-19 year, the average is 45.3 points. The state average since 2014-15 is 30.6.

The most depressing result for Alachua County is the percentage of eighth graders scoring a 3 or better on the math FSA, which dropped from 40.0% in 2014-15 to only 20.0% in 2021-22 (compared to a state drop from 45.0% to 42.0%). That means 4 out of 5 eighth-grade students (those not in Algebra or Geometry) cannot perform math at grade level. The Algebra students are only slightly better, with EOC performance dropping 8 percentage points since the equity plan was implemented. Nearly half of the Algebra students cannot perform at grade level.

2021-22 school report cards can be found here (a summary for Alachua County is below). After most schools opted to not be graded last year, only 7 of 45 schools improved since 2019-20. Curiously, the high schools that reported a graduation rate are all over 96%, but student performance in ELA and math is barely 50% (with a high of 66% for ELA at Buchholz).

These results are not caused by a handful or bad students or bad teachers. This is a systemic problem that results from bad policy, yet the school board candidates who support the equity plan will continue to promise that they can fix the problems that their policies created. It’s time to elect school board members who think differently and will focus on teaching fundamentals and supporting teachers rather than talking about equity and hiring more administrators.

    • Yep, besides home school, the only way to get away from teacher’s Union zealots is to go Charter! Go Charter!!!

  • Great piece! The abysmal scores in Alachua County amplify the failed policies by a dysfunctional School Board who can’t get past their personal goals and political ambitions, to focus on what the students of Alachua County need to make each one of them successful! Four of the current board members were party to the adopted equity plan and need to be swept out of their chair immediately! Enough pontificating on their thoughts and ideas of what is good for our kids! Get up and get out of the way! It is time to get back to basics and teach our children, support the teachers who really care about their students! For those who don’t care, it is time to hit the highway! Parents need to be held responsible for the action of their students, and stop playing the victim of our social system and backing up their delinquent, under performing students and blaming the teachers!

  • Yes. Poor school board policy & abolish teachers’ unions…is it lousy teachers? Is it lousy parents? Is it environment or genetic that could possibly be the difference black & white students? Charter schools do
    Better but what is the racial breakdown of their
    Students?

    • Teachers are not the problem . It is the disruptive Student’s and their Disruptive Parents.

  • I think it’s relevant to remind people of which board members actually voted to approve the SBAC Equity Plan and who did not. Four board members voted to approve the plan in the face of considerable citizen resistance to passing the plan on 9/18/18. Paulson, Hyatt, Roy, and Griffin voted to adopt the plan, Leanetta McNealy voted “nay”. Check out the minutes of the meeting here. https://go.boarddocs.com/fl/alaco/Board.nsf/files/C8LSN2735924/$file/min091818.pdf

  • I asked the board for statistics on violence inside the schools, never received even an email!

  • Dr Cabrera, the policies of behavior in the classroom also have a direct behavior on student learning. Until the school board figures this out, SBAC will always fail. There needs to be better classroom management and better support for teachers. Not more failing administrators!
    Your assessment of the situation is spot on!

  • Doesn’t matter which board members voted to approve the SBAC Equity Plan and who did not four years later! The SBAC has had four years to make changes “to the living document” as they called it! The 2018 SBAC, SBAC from 2019 until today has changed faces but one thing remains the same: the activist/politician in each of them keep them from making sound, strategic choices for the education of ALL Alachua County students. All Alachua County students (regardless of race, school location, and on and on) deserve a group of adults that has their best interest in mind, not their own personal agendas and horn blowing!

    • Well, it does sort of matter, since Roy, Paulson, and Hyatt remained a voting bloc thru the end of 2020. Then there were a few brief months of a different board majority but also a big COVID spike, until there were only 4 board members. For the past few months, there’s been a different voting bloc (Russell, Hyatt, Paulson). I do know you understand it takes 3 votes, not 2 for a board decision to be made! I love that this “personal agenda” commentary keeps popping up. I would love to know specifically what that is. I know that at least one board member, Tina Certain, has been very focused on ensuring that the district is more accountable and transparent financially, on promoting K-2 literacy, and on insisting on better instructional practices, so more students can read and do math proficiently. Through a collaboration between UF and the district, now all district elementary schools have a phonics-based reading program based on science, something that did not exist before. That program will benefit all students. Do her priorities sound extreme or “WOKE” to anyone?

      • So depending on which “voting bloc” (can that be interpreted to mean “block, or color”), is in the majority, that particular “group” of children are the beneficiaries of the SBAC actions? Yes, the majority changed from your Roy, Paulson, and Hyatt, to Certain, McNealy, and McGraw, to Hyatt, Paulson, and Russell. During the meetings I have viewed, each majority group/bloc truly appeared to be unable to work with the minority and rammed their “agenda” through, no compromising or even pretending to be interested in considering the other “sides” concerns. Granted, it seems Ms. Certain has done much work to promote equity in early education, I applaud that. Alachua County Students need an SBAC that is focused on the entire Student population, and not a certain group. That is why the SBAC has been dysfunctional the past 4 years and it is time for fresh faces and ideas.

        • Yup, you will get two fresh faces for sure, as Hyatt and Paulson finally depart, and that change alone will help the functioning of the school board a great deal. If you had been attending board meetings regularly since 2017 like me, you too would also be breathing a sigh of relief on those two retirements. You don’t need a complete board turnover, but you do need people with critical thinking skills, common sense, an ability to collaborate, and determination to insist that instructional practices/systems improve, which will benefit ALL children. The only current board member running for re-election definitely possesses these qualities.

          • Sounds like a campaign speech for your candidate. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I’ll decide for myself what I need. Continue to support anyone you wish to. I look for a clean sweep and what would make it better would be all five board positions seated with new faces and ideas.

  • Do Lethal Covid Vaxxines for schoolchildren improve student performance? What is your government really rooting for?

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