If Florida schools had a yearbook, Miami-Dade would hands down win “most improved.”
The state Department of Education released its annual school grades Wednesday and despite a high number of low-income and immigrant students, Miami-Dade recorded a milestone: the elimination of all F-rated district schools.
“Second only to the day I became superintendent, this is my proudest moment,” said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho at a press conference announcing the results. “Nothing beats being able to say that failure has been eliminated in Miami-Dade.”
That’s not happened before in the county, district officials said. Miami-Dade has seen the number of failing traditional public schools plummet in recent years, from 16 F-rated schools in 2015 to seven last year. That’s compared to 26 schools with an F grade in 1999, the first year the state assigned letter grades to schools. There are still two charter schools in the county, which aren’t managed by the school district, that received an F on their state report card.
Overall, the district earned a B average with two-thirds of all schools getting an A or B. Broward County schools also earned a B average with half of its schools getting an A or B. Six Broward public schools that had been F-rated last year earned a C or D on the most recent state report cards. Two — Larkdale Elementary and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Montessori Academy — were rated F this year.
Schools across the state saw improvements. Fifty-seven percent of Florida schools earned an A or B, up from 46 percent last year. The number of F schools statewide also fell by more than half, from 111 schools last year to just 43.
The state grades are based largely on student performance on standardized tests. Other measures like graduation rates and the number of students who enroll in advanced courses are also factored into the calculations.
Miami-Dade’s achievement is especially notable considering the challenges many of the county’s students face, district officials said. About 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of their family’s income and more than 72,000 are learning English at school. Hundreds of Miami-Dade children have been killed or seriously injured by gun violence over the past decade.
At Poinciana Park Elementary in the Liberty City area, for example, students live in fear of neighborhood shootings. The ambush-style attack on two Miami-Dade police detectives in March took place just blocks from the school. But this year, Poinciana Park went from having an F to getting an A on its state report card.
“We are overjoyed to celebrate Poinciana Park Elementary’s accomplishments,” Principal Amrita Prakash said in an e-mail. “Our staff and students worked tirelessly and never lost sight of our goals. We are looking forward to sharing this success with our community.”
Other previously F-rated schools also saw huge improvements. Carol City Middle School jumped from an F to a C, as did North Dade Middle School and Parkview Elementary. Earlington Heights Elementary and Dr. Frederica S. Wilson/Skyway Elementary went from an F to a B.
“Over last year, Miami-Dade has made significant improvements to ensure all students have the opportunity to receive a great education,” said Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart in a statement. “This achievement means more students than ever are on the path to college and career readiness. I applaud Miami-Dade for their hard work and dedication to Florida students.”
But amid the celebration on Wednesday, Carvalho also struck a somber note. Some of the strategies the school district used to help struggling schools will be harder to implement under a controversial new education law recently passed by the Florida Legislature, Carvalho said. A change in the allocation of Title I funds, which are federal dollars for low-income schools, will make it harder for the district to pay for programs that help struggling students, he said.
“That does not make sense and we will be urging our legislative leaders to take account of what took place in Miami-Dade and correct some of the elements of legislative action that I believe are counter-intuitive to what we do in Miami-Dade,” Carvalho said.