How Far Does Palmetto’s “A” Rating Reach?

Daniel Perodin, Staff Writer

The information below details how to access the sources referenced in the article:

* – After clicking on the link, MPSH’s report card will appear on the FDOE website. Scroll down to find a rectangle labeled “Assessments – Achievement, Growth, and Participation”, click on this rectangle. Next scroll down to find a chart detailing the results of a state assessment. Above the chart one may change the year, measure, subject, and subgroup.

# – After clicking on the link MPSH’s report card will appear on the FDOE website. Scroll down to find a rectangle labeled “Population and Enrollment”. Next, scroll down to find a chart labeled “Race/Ethnicity.”

<> – After clicking on the link, MPSH’s report card will appear on the FDOE website. Scroll down to find where it says “Identified for Support”. If one clicks on the “Yes” squares for 2021-22 and 2020-21 the page will show that the Black/African American subgroups underperformed for both years.


As testing season comes to an end, many MPSH students await their scores. MPSH’s 2021-2022 test scores brought the school to an “A” rating for the first time since 2015, a reason for celebration among students and staff alike; however, this rating overlooks an underperformance by the Black student population at MPSH. 

In the *2021-2022 school year, 33% of White students, 47.6% of Hispanic students and 78% of Black students at Palmetto failed their state math assessments* according to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE). These disparate outcomes reflect across all other subject areas as well, including English Language Arts, Science and Social Studies.

*In fact, in every single subject area, at least 55% of Black students at MPSH failed the state assessment for the 2021-2022 school year.* Black students tend to score comparatively lower than students of other races throughout the county, but the Black student population at MPSH *still underperforms* compared to other Black students in Miami-Dade County and the state of Florida at large. For instance, referring back to *2021-2022 state mathematics assessments*, 65.6% of Black students failed the state math assessments statewide and 61.9% of Black students failed the state math assessments in Miami-Dade County, compared to 78% of Black students who failed the state math assessments at MPSH.

Black students at MPSH have received lower test scores compared to other Black students in the county and state, as well as compared to their classmates of other races, since at least the *2017-2018 school year* — the year with the earliest available data on the current school report card. Since the 2017-2018 school year, the percentage of Black students who fail the state mathematics assessments has stayed above 67% and the percentage that fail the state ELA assessment has stayed above 60%.

This issue remains a multifaceted one, with its roots in complex factors which all contribute to the problem on some level. School administrators, educational experts, teachers and students generally boil the issue down to the following causes: systemic racism in America in general, environmental factors, a lack of early childhood educational support and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Marvin Dunn, a career educator and professor at Florida International University, says the racial disparities that the U.S. has seen since its founding have impacts that persist to this day and continue to perpetuate inequality.

“In two words: institutional racism. I don’t mean to be flippant about it, but when you consider the kinds of obstacles that the parents and the grandparents and the great-grandparents of the kids you’re talking about, what kinds of things that they had to overcome that white kids have not had to overcome, you get the cumulative effect of these kinds of deprivations and oppressions,” Dunn said. “So why would you not expect for Black kids not to do as well as White kids? When the state of Florida first began funding public education, it was only for indigent white children, so the educational system in our country and our state and our county has never been equal. It has never been balanced in terms of the resources that Black kids have been exposed to and white kids have been exposed to. So what would one expect except that you’d have a difference in test performance?

District 9 Miami-Dade School Board Member for Luisa Santos agrees, attributing much of the disparity to systemic inequalities.

There are significant opportunity gaps that are pervasive systemically in our nation, in our state and in our individual schools. So this is a challenge that research shows racial disparities are multifaceted. It’s like a cycle that feeds into itself. There are environmental injustices, there are economic injustices. A lot of them are historic and pervasive, so it’s certainly not a lack of talent — that’s very important to just state up front, but certainly difference in opportunity,” Santos said.

For many Black students at MPSH, the difference in educational outcomes comes down to what they see as an imbalance of diversity in some classes at the school. 

It’s mostly systematic. For one, I see that there’s a huge difference between the [level of rigor in classes taken by] Black and white students at Palmetto. For example, you’ll see in a majority of classes that are AP or honors or anything above basically a regular class, it is majority white students, and as a Black student who does take honors and AP classes, I’m typically the only Black student in those classes,MPSH junior Condoleezza Alexis said.

MPSH junior and Student Council president-elect Clayton Detant sees a lack of diversity in certain extracurricular activities.

“The extracurricular activity that most Black males participate in within Palmetto is sports. While I, on the other hand, have pursued other non-traditional options like becoming President of Student Council. This difference is apparent, as out of the about 75 members of student council, only four official members are African American including myself,” Detant said.

According to data from the Florida Department Of Education, for the 2022-23 school year, #12.8% of students at MPSH identify as Black/African American#. Even so, Black students constitute about 5.3% of the student council, meaning they are significantly underrepresented. 

“I think that the main issue that we have found in the past couple of years is that there’s a definite communication gap, that we’re not getting our information across all of the campus, so we are slowly but efficiently trying to figure out how we bridge that gap. What we want to try to do [is make] sure that we spend enough time and effort getting the news to every person on this campus. If we get the point across that student council is open to any concerns throughout the year, student council is open to the application process for any student on campus, no matter whether you’ve been a part of it before, or if this is your first time and you just have ideas. But that has been our biggest Achilles, that we can’t find a way to bridge that gap in communication. So we’re trying and we’re working on it and we’re open to suggestions,” MPSH Activities Director Elizabeth Valero said.

Studies show that involvement in extracurricular activities at school improves a student’s academic achievement. MPSH Principal Victoria Dobbs agrees that extracurriculars can have a positive impact in the classroom.

“We want activity; we want kids to stay on campus and participate because a student who is engaged and participating in school will tend to also do better in their classes,” Dobbs said.

One’s environment also plays an important role when it comes to the disparity in test scores. According to MPSH Math For College Statistics teacher Nicole Bond, some Black students at the school come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, meaning that they typically attend elementary schools with fewer resources than students from more affluent neighborhoods. For example, students who live in West Perrine, which has a Black population of 42.2% and median household income of $49,206, may attend Robert Russa Moton Elementary School – which received a “C” grade from the FDOE for 2021-2022 school year. Contrast that with a student living in Pinecrest, which has a Black population of 2.5% and a median household income of $166,801, who may attend Palmetto Elementary School – which received an “A” grade from the FDOE for the 2021-2022 school year.  This, in turn, results in those students from under-resourced communities falling behind compared to their more affluent classmates once they reach high school. 

Bond also stresses the role of parents.

Parents have a huge determination value, as for if things are going to get better, they have to encourage the child at home,” Bond said.

Dunn also emphasizes the importance of the parent’s role when it comes to the education of the child and says that generational experiences have a major effect on educational outcomes for children.

Were the parents raised in a home where they were read to, or [did] the kids have certain kinds of advantages that many white kids have but many Black parents do not allow? So, even parenting becomes a factor,” Dunn said.

Bond highlighted the influence of culture as well, saying academic achievement currently does not receive enough attention, leading students to place less value on performing well in school.

“I’ve seen a trend either from the school I was at, and I still kind of see it now, to where it’s not cool to get the academic help you need. It’s not perceived in the best light. So, I would say that’s one of those hidden reasons that’s usually not spoken about. They may be worried about how they’re perceived,” Bond said.

All this begs the question of who holds the responsibility of promoting a culture that encourages and celebrates academic achievement. Dobbs says school staff encourage underperforming students to achieve academic success. 

“We offer the services; we entice and engage and motivate. We provide transportation. We want kids to stay and participate in school, hoping that all that engagement will also motivate them to continue to study and work on those skills that they need,” Dobbs said.

Professor Dunn agrees that school administration has the task of motivating students to perform. Dunn founded the Dr. Marvin Dunn Academy For Community Education, a public school in Miami-Dade County, and discusses some ways he motivated students to do well in their studies.

We made it worth their while to perform. We had a reward system in our school, and we kept daily records. Who turned in that work on time? Who was there? Who made a certain amount of progress? We kept up with their [academic] progress and with their behavioral progress — or lack thereof — as well. Those who did well get rewards,” Dunn said.

A lack of early childhood educational support cannot be overlooked either when looking at this disparity in test scores. Dobbs points out that missing out on those crucial early years can have lasting effects later on in high school.

We’re getting kids at 15, at 16. We miss their beginning times, right? So I think that you got to look at a lot of different things and historically, have students been given the opportunity to go to head start programs? Daycares, preschools that are academically based, not just daycare. So when you see and you break that down, have our students in different subgroups been given those opportunities? Because [early childhood educational support] gives you a good head start, and then, by the time you get into elementary school, you’re coming in with a base, whether it’s math or english or reading and you’re not playing catchup,” Dobbs said.

Santos agrees that helping students build core concepts from a young age has important ramifications for their education.

Obviously, by the time you’re in high school, it is harder to make up academic gains, right? Then if we start early, that highlights the importance of early education. In third grade, you stop learning to read and you start reading to learn. So, if by third grade, you don’t have a strong reading foundation, the gaps are only going to exacerbate as you get older. And unfortunately, I think that is some of what we see in our schools,” Santos said.

Dunn also cites the significance of that third-grade milestone. Dunn notes that in the 1960s, the federal government funded “Head Start” programs which helped children from three to four years old get ahead in school by providing medical and instructional care. The programs worked, but children who participated in Head Start programs and those who did not tended to level out in academic performance at around third grade, since that intense effort does not persist — according to Dunn. Dunn says the fact that Head Start underwent major budget cuts under the Ronald Reagan administration means the current program does not live up to its full potential.

Early education has an important role, but what about after third grade? Santos says getting those children caught up needs to happen regardless of a student’s preschool experience.

“What additional interventions and opportunities — after school, before school, during spring break, Saturday school — what additional opportunities are we going to have? Because we guess it’s easier before third grade, but those gaps can be closed at any grade level with the appropriate amount of resources, focus and attention. But it’s difficult, it’s really difficult,” Santos said.

When students fail their state exams it can put them at risk of not graduating. At Palmetto, Dr. Hunter’s At Risk Program works to aid students who fall into this category by providing them the opportunity to try out different pathways to meet their graduation requirements. These pathways can include achieving a concordant score on the SAT, ACT and in some years the PERT.

“Our program focuses on the two main hurdles for graduation, which is FSA reading, and also algebra one and what we try to do is … if we’re unable to get it one way let’s go a different direction. And that direction for our program is a concordant score. So we get our kids to try to take this test, prep them for the test, and give them as many resources as we possibly can, and testing opportunities so that they can hopefully gain a concordant score, ” Hunter said.

Dobbs also mentioned that the school offers zoom tutoring to help students pass their reading and math assessments. To aid students who failed their state ELA assessments, MPSH offers reading classes for junior and seniors to prepare for retakes. MPSH Math Department Chair Stephen Leverett says the school also has programs in place for students who fail the Algebra 1 or the Geometry EOCs. 

“If a student fails Algebra 1 and the EOC freshman year, they will take an Algebra 1 Retake class instead of an elective while also taking Geometry. They will be able to retake the Algebra 1 EOC at least once before the end of the year. If a student passes Algebra 1 but fails the EOC freshman year, they will only take Geometry but be given the opportunity to retake the Algebra 1 EOC at least once before the end of the year. The PSAT, which is free for sophomores, can also be used as a concordant score if they score at least 430 on the math portion. In addition to this, for the past few years, to address learning loss from the pandemic, passing the Geometry EOC has counted towards passing the Algebra 1 EOC as well. But there is no guarantee that that will continue next year.” Leverett said. “If a student still has not passed the Algebra 1 EOC or another test that can be used as a concordant score, then they are placed in College Statistics their junior year. The primary focus of this class is helping the student to pass one of the following: the Algebra 1 EOC, the SAT (with a math score of 420 or higher), or the ACT (with a math score of 16 or higher). If a student still has not passed the Algebra 1 EOC or another test that can be used as a concordant score, then they are placed in College Algebra their senior year. The primary focus of this class is the same as it was junior year. But because this is the final year, this group has been identified as ‘at risk’ students. Mr. Hunter holds regular meetings with them to make sure that they are on track with all of their requirements, and they are given every opportunity possible to meet them in time for graduation.”

Also commonly cited as a cause for the disparate outcomes: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2020-21 school year, in which schools shifted to online learning, 87.3% of Black students at Palmetto failed the state mathematics assessments. Students of all races across the nation and the world experienced negative impacts, especially Black students. 

Santos claims that the pandemic undid the progress that had slowly brought the county closer to closing the racial educational gap, instead widening that gap.

“During COVID, it seems like that disruption in learning led us to actually some years of widening the gap. And so that’s very concerning for everyone,” Santos said.

Dobbs recalled the pandemic, and the resulting online learning, creating difficulties for students — especially Black students — when the logistics of the remote learning model were challenged by a student’s environment and access to certain resources.

Where I do think that there was not a level playing field is on the ability to bring in internet, computers, a quiet place to do your work and to listen to class,” Dobbs said.

MPSH Assistant Principal Tierney E. Hunter discussed the way COVID-19 affected Black families’ ability to obtain food supplies, and how that could have contributed to the disparate outcomes.

Look at it from the standpoint of when we were giving away food for COVID purposes. Did you see more of the Black American students coming in for food as opposed to any other subgroups? That could have been a variable,” Hunter said.

It should be noted, though, that Black students’ test scores were on a downward trend before COVID-19. For the *2018-19 school year, one year before the pandemic, 75% of Black students failed the state math assessments,* and one year after the pandemic that failure rate for Black students at MPSH stood at 78%. 

The FDOE tracks a school’s subgroups to see if their scores meet a Federal index of 41% or above. Should a subgroup at a school receive a Federal index below 41%, the school must detail how they plan to improve that subgroup’s scores in their school improvement plan. Additionally, the school may be marked for additional targeted support and improvement (ATSI).

<For the past two years, Black students at MPSH have fallen below the 41% Federal index.> MPSH has the unique juxtaposition of having an “A” rating and an additional targeted support and improvement (ATSI) designation, contrasting the kind of outcomes a student might see depending on their zip code, socioeconomic situation and racial background.

MPSH’s school improvement plan outlines how the school aims to close the racial education gap. The plan focuses on collaboration among teachers, with the goal of improving the quality of instruction for students. MPSH Assistant Principal Daniel Barreras says the school has already implemented elements of the plan.

The teachers work really closely with each other and the departments and they always talk about what strategies work in their classroom. Some might do differentiated instruction or have small groups. Even within each class, it could be different for teachers. The strategies they might use with one class might be different than the strategy they use with another, it just depends on the students that they have in a class, but they’re always collaborating and we’re always working to do the best thing that’s going to work for the kids,” Barreras said.  

Santos agrees that schools that collaborate see better results.

Sometimes you do get environments and leadership and staff that come together and rally and say we are going to figure out how to break these incredibly tough barriers that seem to persist decade after decade,” Santos said.

The school’s improvement strategy constitutes one piece of the larger mosaic of solutions. Dobbs says the county works towards providing more Head Start programs for students who may need them. Santos says federal relief money for COVID-19, provided by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, allowed the county to finance more early childhood programs, but as that money runs out the funding for those Head Start programs could as well.

“What I’m concerned about now is that those ESSER dollars were short-term, so they were a one-time infusion of dollars. They weren’t ongoing, repeated dollars. And so those dollars will come to an end by September 2024. My concern is how are we going to be able to maintain our level of investment in early childhood after those dollars go away? That’s something we have to keep an eye out for,” Santos said.

Bond believes that interventions can aid students who require additional help.

There’s got to be interventions in place if we’re able to get people dedicated to providing those interventions. That way, when they’re in their current class and are going to go into another class, the gap is being closed,” Bond said.

Professor Dunn suggested reducing class size as a solution, citing that students at his school tended to perform better in smaller classes with 15 to 20 students.

“That was the biggest change: students who have more difficulty keeping up do much better in classes that are smaller. We found that students, not just Black students —  particularly Black students though — did better in classes where they had more of an opportunity to participate and get caught up,” Dunn said. 

At the county level, Santos says the school board’s strategic plan includes goals to close achievement gaps. Santos also notes that the school board formed an achievement gap committee, to which Santos appointed two representatives. While the committee has good intentions, Santos agrees the committee can do more.

I would love to see it more active and certainly we’ll be reaching out to our academics office to check where that is going because I feel like at least my appointees I can speak to and they would be there. They would be great to help us figure this out. Unfortunately, it has not met enough,” Santos said.

Principal Dobbs acknowledges that additional work towards ending the disparity lies ahead.

As a whole, from the beginning of education, even through high school that we need to continue to work on. Whether it’s for our African-American kids or our [economically disadvantaged] kids, and that’s a mixed bag because the same person can fall into different subgroups. I think that it’s something that we have to continue to keep working on,” Dobbs said.

Professor Dunn says the disparate educational outcomes for Black students will have long-term
effects for the Black community.

The young Black people in this generation fall farther and farther behind other students because we live in the information age, where if you can’t handle information, including numbers and concepts and things that you’re supposed to be learning in school, you’re not going to be able to live comfortably. I am very concerned about the fact that as we move more and more into the age of technology, where machines and computers replace people, where are these folks going to go who have limited skills? Particularly those who cannot compete with students or, in other words, the workers of another race who have better scores and better performance records. It will result, in the long term, riding even further behind that population because they will not have salable skills in the market,” Dunn said.

Santos stresses the importance of ensuring equity in education, due to the immense impact it has on communities and individuals alike.

We all win when everyone has a real chance at thriving in their personal lives, and of course, we know that thriving academically, and a strong education, continues to be the number one driver for social mobility and breaking out of cycles that may have kept them from reaching their full potential in the past,” Santos said.