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Florida's third-grade reading scores remain stagnant after COVID-19

Students write the letters.
St. Michael's Episcopal School/RACC
Students write the letters.

Florida’s students are — for the most part — back to the constant humdrum of classroom learning. But the coronavirus pandemic has almost certainly made its lasting effect on Florida’s budding students.

This year, just 53 percent of Florida's third graders scored a passing grade or higher on the reading portion of the Florida Standards Assessment. That's one point lower than in 2021, according to the state Department of Education.

Here is a county-by-county list of third graders who earned a Level 3 score or higher in the greater Tampa Bay region:

  • Pinellas: 52 percent
  • Hillsborough: 49 percent
  • Polk: 48 percent
  • Sarasota: 63 percent
  • Manatee: 46 percent
  • Pasco: 53 percent
  • Hernando: 54 percent

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said the pandemic's effects will likely be felt well into the next few years.

"Next year if we get back to a sense of normalcy and are able to really keep the learning process protected, then you still have to remember those third graders will have had non-normal years in kindergarten, first grade and second grade," Spar said.

Spar says it may be a while before the state sees the improvements in reading performance. Moving forward, he said, it's important to make sure students are getting the help they need — and that distractions are minimized as much as possible.

READ MORE: Some Tampa Bay teachers say students' behavior and mental health are struggling

While the pandemic has been the most significant challenge over the past couple years, the worsening teacher and staff shortage has created problems as well. Spar noted that his daughter, a seventh grader, has not had a science teacher since the end of January.

“So that is a real issue that’s playing out thousands of times in the state of Florida,” Spar said. “Which means tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of students are being impacted by these shortages. And that also hurts students when it comes to test scores and the like.”

Spar said the state needs to invest in keeping teachers in classrooms — and in providing students with resources — for the situation to improve.

"I think coming out of it, unless we recognize that we do things differently, it's going to be more of the same,” Spar said.

He suggested the focus should be shifted away from testing and that teachers be able to evaluate where their students are at after the disruptions of the pandemic.

Spar added that support for students needs to start early with pre-K and other programs. Low-income children may need additional assistance to prepare them for learning before they enter kindergarten.

“I think if we’re going to truly make the inroads we need to make sure that every child is getting the education they deserve and need regardless of race, background, zip code or ability, then we need to invest in our schools,” Spar said.

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