In a school year when a pandemic severely challenged the state’s education system, Florida’s average test scores for third-grade students fell statewide in English Language Arts — a key benchmark — yet The Village Charter School’s results improved and placed it near the top of the class. The strong testing result in The Villages heavily contributed to Sumter County standing out as one of only four school districts out of the 67 in the state to see an increase in its scores from two years earlier. Last year’s assessment was upended by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The English Language Arts (ELA) results showed third-graders at The Villages Charter Elementary School achieving satisfactory or better scores — those ranked 3 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5 — increasing by 3 percentage points from 82% in 2018-19 to 85% in 2020-21.
Sumter County as a whole improved 2 percentage points, from 66% to 68%, from 2018-19 scores.
The ELA assessment is part of Florida Standards, a successor to Common Core, which has been administered since spring 2015. It tests ELA skills on a scale of 1 to 5, with 3 being satisfactory in reaching the goals of the state. Level 1 is considered “inadequate” and suggests students who get this score are “highly likely to need substantial support for the next grade/course.”
The results from the 2019-20 school year were not recorded by the state as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From The Villages Charter School, 250 students were involved in the assessments this spring.
LeAnne Yerk, principal of The Villages Charter Elementary School, and her staff were pleased with the numbers.
“We were hopeful. It was a year of a lot of change and uncertainty,” Yerk said.
The pandemic is attributed as a cause for the state’s overall ELA average dipping for students scoring Level 3 and above from 58% to 54%. Charter schools outperformed public schools, with 61% of charter school students scoring Level 3 and above, compared to the public schools’ average of 53%. However, both charter and public schools saw an increase of 3 percentage points in scores at Level 1. Sumter schools may have benefited from the fact that 89% of its third-graders attended school in-person and only 11% participated in virtual learning.
Gov. Ron Desantis and Education Commissioner Ron Concoran both noted in statements made Monday that students who were taught in-person for the majority of the year saw better results than those with more virtual and online learning.
A Successful, Nontraditional Year
Only 2%, or five students out of the 250, tested at the Level 1 range at The Villages Charter Elementary School — a stat that ranks in the top 3 percentile of more than 2,200 schools reporting scores, according to data from the Florida Department of Education. The school offers a “safety net” program that identifies students who may be falling behind, triggering added help. The school follows a philosophy in which school staff, students and their parents all work together for classroom success.
These third-graders also ranked in the top 150 for schools achieving Level 4 and 5 scores, with 37% and 14%, respectively.
Yerk described so much of the past year as “uncharted territory” for teachers, students and parents due to a combination of online learning and COVID-19 restrictions that included students and faculty wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
“You always wonder how that will affect learning,” Yerk said.
A Push for Next Year
Yerk said the school’s hope is that there is continued improvement in the next year, though many matters of curriculum are still being finalized — both at the district and state levels.
This has not stopped the summer semester from being a place of learning, as some students get an early start on improving their education. This, Yerk said, will further the advantage students should have in obtaining better reading skills for upcoming courses in the following grade level.
Candice Sykes, vice principal at The Villages Charter Elementary School, said 12 third-grade students were invited, based on scores and performance, to the Buffalo Boost Camp, with 10 regular students split into two classes.
Sykes said the goal is to “strengthen their skills and fill in gaps” that were left over from the pandemic, virtual learning and other issues that students faced.
Results Mixed in Tri-County Schools
The Sumter County School District Office issued a news release addressing the entire district’s showing in these test scores.
“COVID brought many changes to our school system over the past year,” the release said. “Masks, quarantines, thermometers for daily temperature checks, countless gallons of hand sanitizer, Plexiglas partitions, the six-feet apart rule, distance learning and, the infamous, ‘You’re on mute,’ during TEAMS calls. While this was impactful, the students and teachers in Sumter County remained dedicated to having a successful year.”
Superintendent Richard Shirley commented on the accomplishments in scoring this year in the same release.
“We are proud of our students and staff at all levels who worked tirelessly to keep students on track during one of the toughest years in my educational career,” Shirley said, “and we are appreciative of parents who pitched in and helped. Additionally, we have to thank our school board who supported staff proposals and trusted us all to do the right thing.”
In addition to The Villages Charter Elementary’s increase, Wildwood Elementary School also saw improvement: an increase of 5 percentage points in Level 3 and above scoring, going from 51% to 56%.
However, Lake Panasoffkee Elementary School fell from 62% to 59%, dropping 3 percentage points.
Results at other schools in the tri-county area also varied.
Fruitland Park Elementary saw a 1 percentage point drop from 45% to 44% while nearby Villages Elementary of Lady Lake saw a 4 percentage points drop from 66% to 62%.
Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School saw a 8 percentage points boost from 28% to 36%.
Belleview Elementary School also receive a 9 percentage points bump from 35% to 44%.
However, Harbour View Elementary School dropped from 38% to 31%, a decrease of 7 percentage points.
The Florida Department of Education will release the remaining state assessments by July 31.
Staff Writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or email@example.com.