The number of A-rated and B-rated schools jumped for most Northeast Florida districts, including big increases for Duval County schools, where A-rated schools jumped to 46 schools, up from 36 last year.
Duval also has fewer D-rated schools, 16, down from from 35 last year. The district maintained its B rating according to the school grades the state released Wednesday.
Clay County also maintained its B rating. Clay’s A-rated schools grew to 12, up from seven last year. Baker County saw its district grade jump from a C to a B.
Nassau County Schools climbed back into an A rating from a B, and St. Johns County — typically the highest rated district in the state — also maintained its A rating. The number of A-rated schools in Nassau, seven, was one fewer than last year, while in St. Johns the A rated schools grew to 25, up one from last year.
Across the state, the percentage of A and B schools grew from 46 percent last year to 57 percent this year, or 1,834 schools, according to the Florida Department of Education. The total number of F schools fell to 11 schools, down from 43 schools last year.
About 71 percent of Florida’s D-rated or F-rated schools improved a letter grade over last year. Duval had two F schools, the same number as last year, while Clay had one F rated charter school.
Grades for each county district include traditional public schools and charter schools, which are public schools that operate independently of districts and elected school boards. Despite a district’s limited purview over charter schools, their grades are affected by charter school grades.
Duval County officials at a press conference discussed only district schools Wednesday. They said Duval had more “A” schools, 41, than last year’s 28, and 89 percent of the schools reached an “A, B, or C,” up from 75 percent last year.
“Our schools have worked really hard,” said Patricia Willis, interim superintendent. “We are just 24 points away from have a (district grade) A…. Duval is certainly moving in the right direction.”
Among the biggest seven districts in Florida, only Palm Beach County outscored Duval, she said.
She also noted that Henry F. Kite and S.A. Hull elementary schools went from a C to an A, and Garden City and Love Grove elementary schools went from D’s to B’s.
Duval also reduced the number of “D” schools by 61 percent, dropping from 33 to 13. And of Duval’s two F grades, only one, Ramona Boulevard Elementary, is a traditional school.
The other, the Marine Science Center, is an alternative education program. Florida doesn’t usually issue letter grades to alternative schools, so the district is appealing.
Most of Duval’s 36 “transformation schools,” which were persistently low-scoring, high-poverty schools, also showed improved grades. These schools in recent years received millions in private donations and public funds, including incentive pay of up to $17,000 per teacher.
But there are still concerns in Duval.
Many district schools still struggle to bring up students’ reading performance to grade-level proficiency, according to recently released test scores. Some schools are still in danger of closing.
Florida’s education laws recently changed, giving districts fewer years to turn around D-rated and F-rated schools. If district schools don’t reach a C grade in time, they could be closed, turned into charter schools or managed by an outside entity.
Two of three Duval middle schools were recently projected to be in danger and remain in danger because they received D’s: Northwestern Middle and Matthew Gilbert Middle.
The third school, Ribault Middle, received a C from a D and is out of danger.
Mason Davis, Duval’s chief academic officer, said he is confident the state will let Duval continue its turnaround efforts at Northwestern and Gilbert because of the growth in scores in both schools.
“While Gilbert and Northwestern Middle Schools maintained their current grade, these schools demonstrated 37- and 40-point increases, respectively,” he said. “We will continue to implement stronger leadership and instructional support structures for these schools, which will result in a continual increase in student achievement.”
Added Willis: “They won’t be charter schools next year. They’re still our schools.”
To get to the district to an A, Davis said, Duval will focus on fifth-grade science, and on sixth-grade and eighth- grade reading and math.
School grades are based on up to 11 components, including student test scores and passing rates on state exams and learning gains from year to year, also based on those exams.
There were 12 ‘A’ schools in Clay County, an increase of five schools over the previous year. Nineteen are ‘B’ schools, which held steady from the previous year, and three fewer ‘C’ schools.
There was only one ‘F’ school in the county, Orange Park Performing Arts Academy, which is a charter school.
Clay schools posted gains in reading and math, leaving the district just one point shy of earning an ‘A’ from the state, said Superintendent Addison Davis, who was elected in November.
“Absolutely, we’ll be an ‘A’ next year, without a doubt,” he said.
“It’s exciting,” Davis said of the grades. “It’s a clear indication that the work we’re doing in Clay County is the right thing for kids.”
Reading proficiency increased by 3 percentage points, and math went up by 2 percentage points. Science, however, decreased by two percentage points, which Davis called disappointing.
Davis said he hasn’t had a chance to take a deep dive into the charter school’s numbers, but said the district is willing to help that school improve. “It’s all linked to leadership, and it is my understanding that this school will seek a leadership change,” he said.
Alesia Burse, who is chairwoman of the academy’s board, said her school is appealing its grade because it appears that some scores were left out of the state’s calculations and other scores were markedly different from how the students’ scored in “pre-testing.”
“We’re very optimistic,” she said. “We’re going to re-brand and we’re going to be well on our way. We are confident that we will have a passing school grade after all the assessments are complete and finalized.”
In St. Johns County, an A-rated district continued to improve. St Johns had 25 ‘A’ schools, 7 ‘B’ schools and 5 ‘C’ schools, with no ‘D’ or ‘F’ schools.
St Johns Superintendent Tim Forson said he feels very good about this year’s grades, pointing out that two high-poverty elementary schools moved up a letter grade.
“We’re very proud to be a part of this school district,” he said. “It’s a total effort, having great families and parents.”
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