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Tampa Bay school district grades hover at pre-pandemic levels

A calculator and pen rest on a paper with pie charts on it.
Most Tampa Bay school districts kept their grades of a 'B' or higher from their 2019 report card, but Polk County saw its grade slip to a 'C.'

The Hillsborough County School District was the only one in the Tampa Bay region to have more schools improve their grades since 2019 than decline.

The Florida Department of Education released school grades last week — the first to be released since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

In the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough district was the only one to have more schools improve their grades since 2019 than decline.

However, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas all maintained their districtwide ‘B’ grades from 2019. Sarasota again attained an ‘A.‘

But Polk County saw its grade fall from a ‘B’ to a ‘C.‘

University of Florida assistant professor Chris Redding researches school turnaround.

He said this year's school grades are hard to evaluate for two reasons: the state didn't record grades during the pandemic and the system they use will be overhauled next year.

“I sort of have other questions about how to even make sense of them this year, given that it's still just a little bit of a strange period — both with the pandemic and then moving forward,” Redding said.

He added that the way school grades have been calculated lacks a lot of what are called "achievement indicators," such as student perceptions of their schools and sense of belonging.

"These are obviously really important pieces about what it means to attend school, but often we're not able to measure them well,” Redding said. “And there's been few attempts to try to incorporate these types of measures into school grades, but we're really just not there in terms of what we currently include."

Florida's standardized tests will be replaced by “progress monitoring” testing next school year, leaving how school grades will be evaluated up in the air for now.

At apress conference Monday, Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis said the new system would assess schools three times a year, but little else has been explained by the state.

“There's a lot of unknowns," he said. “We're still waiting on more guidance, more information related to what that actually looks like, how adaptive that assessment may be, what content will parents be able to receive. Progress monitoring is, in theory, the way to go.”

Jack Prator is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for summer of 2022.