Education

Miami-Dade schools earn B average on state report card

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, center, is surrounded by school officials while discussing how the district performed on the state’s report card.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, center, is surrounded by school officials while discussing how the district performed on the state’s report card. Christina Veiga

The state’s school grades are in, and Miami-Dade brought home marks that would make many parents proud — despite tougher grading scales.

Miami-Dade, the state’s largest district, cut its number of F-rated schools by more than half while outperforming the state and other large districts in the percentage of A-rated schools.

“What can you conclude? The right things are happening here,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

School leaders across the state braced for a slide in grades, especially among high schools, after the Florida Department of Education changed the grading formula. Still, Miami-Dade and Broward counties maintained a B average across all district schools. More than half of all schools in Miami-Dade earned an A or B.

The marks are largely dependent on student performance on state tests. Schools also get points based on graduation rates and how many students enroll in advanced courses.

This year, struggling students were expected to post bigger improvements on state tests, while higher-achieving students had to do better than just maintaining their scores. Additional tests were also factored into the grades.

“These are relatively new exams ... so I think over time you’ll see more improvement,” Chief Academic Officer Marie Izquierdo said.

While school grades are coveted by parents as a quick way to measure performance, Florida’s system has plenty of critics who note test performance can be greatly impacted by poverty, community violence and whether a child is learning English as a second language.

“This is not easy work,” Miami-Dade School Board member Lawrence “Larry” Feldman said. “And yet kids are getting the opportunities, the access they need.”

Miami-Dade knows those issues well: almost 72 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of their family’s income, more than 300 have been murdered in the county over the last decade and more than 70,000 school kids are English-language learners.

Despite that, a handful of Miami-Dade schools posted impressive gains. Shadowlawn Elementary, wedged between Miami’s Wynwood and Little Haiti neighborhoods, boosted its grade from an F to a B. Arcola Lake Elementary near West Little River, jumped two letter grades to earn a C this year — as did Redland Middle in Southwest Dade.

Principals credited after-hours programs, targeted instruction for struggling students and better teacher training with lifting their school grades.

“You put that together and you have a magic recipe,” Carvalho said.

Christina Veiga: 305-376-2029, @cveiga

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