The state has released its 2020-21 school year standardized test scores, and they are down for all Monroe County grades, according to a presentation from Dave Murphy, executive director of assessment & accountability, at the school board meeting on Aug. 10. 

“I would say that it’s down a little further than I would have liked it, relative to other counties,” Murphy said. However, pointed out that the dip was to be expected in such an unusual, unstandardized year.

“Every single teacher, every single staff member in this district did their best last year,” he noted. “Everybody did their best. And it simply wasn’t a condition where we would expect the same high-level outcomes in our district and in any other district.”

Murphy screened charts that detailed the downward trend of the county’s scores as compared to other counties. He showed that in school year 2018-19, the last time the state released standardized assessments, Monroe County was the 10th highest performing district in the state for English language arts for all grades. This year, the district was 18th for ELA.

In 2018-19, Monroe County was the 15th highest performing district for all grade levels combined in mathematics; this year, the county was 27th in the state.

As for science, Murphy told Keys Weekly that compiling the testing data is a little different due to different subjects like biology being taught in different grades. However, “if I had to ballpark it,” he said, “we were the 10th highest performing school district in 2019 and 10th or 12th this year. We stayed relatively high performing in science.”

Murphy was also concerned about the drop off in 2021 advanced placement students taking tests this year, pointing out that only 1,433 AP tests were given. This was a 12% decrease from 2020.

“So not just vulnerable students were affected,” he said about the chaotic pandemic year. “It affected the high-flying students as well.”

After his presentation, administrative staffer Christina McPherson explained the district’s plan for “Mitigating Learning Loss”: Additional support includes interventionists in all pre-K to 8th grade schools, two additional social workers, guidance assistants at all schools, nurse tech assistants at all schools and graduation coaches at all high schools.

School board chairman John Dick said, “We knew this was going to happen, but I think you’re on top of it.”

Murphy also said that the usual procedure for each school getting a grade is “out the window.” Normally at this time of year, he would be providing the state’s provisional school grades and a 30-day window to appeal.

Per the Florida Department of Education website, “School grades provide an easily understandable way to measure the performance of a school. Parents and the general public can use the school grade and its components to understand how well each school is serving its students. Schools are graded A, B, C, D, or F.”

But this year, Murphy said at the meeting, “Our marching order is: Figure it out.” In other words, deciding to take the state-issued grade is optional for every school. 

“No decisions have been made yet about school grades,” Murphy told Keys Weekly about Monroe County’s stance. “There’s very little incentive to do it because the state is not funding school recognition. It hasn’t been budgeted by the governor’s office.”

Board member Sue Woltanski is cautious about the idea of using standardized test scores from an unusual year to determine performance. 

“Every child in every school in every district was affected differently,” she told Keys Weekly. “Using test scores to guide education going forward: totally appropriate. But using the test scores to compare one group of students to another in a completely unstandardized year doesn’t make sense to me. You’re evaluating COVID… I don’t put much stake in school grades. That’s pitting educators against educators, and that’s not helpful.”

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.