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FCAT Report: First Coast Sees Improvement But Duval County Still Falls Short In Many Areas (UPDATED)

The latest batch of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores show gains in math, science and reading proficiency across much of Northeast Florida, with Nassau County showing the most improvement. But for the region's largest district - Duval County - the numbers still come up short.The scores released Friday were in fourth through eighth grade math; fourth through 10th grade reading; and fifth and eighth grade science. Last month, the state released FCAT scores in third grade reading and math, as well as fourth, eighth and 10th grade writing.

While the state as a whole showed generally modest gains in most areas this year, Duval has slipped slightly in most elementary and middle school grade reading, and most significantly, in seventh and eighth-grade math. 

In reading, the percentage of third through fifth grade students proficient - that is, achieving a 3 or higher on the exam - has dropped from 56 percent to 54 percent in the district. The statewide average is 60 percent.

Seventh and 10th grade, in particular, showed the biggest dips in grade-level scores, with the percent of  proficient seventh graders in the district falling from 52 percent last year to 49 percent this year. In 10th grade, that number dropped from 50 percent to 48 percent.  Students in Florida must pass the 10th grade reading assessment in order to obtain their high school diploma. Those who don't pass on the first try, can retake the test prior to graduation.

In eighth grade math, the district saw its biggest drop from 49 percent of students last year to just 37 percent this year.   

However, the district’s results did show gains in some grades of high school reading and elementary math as well as in science. In fourth grade, Duval showed the most improvement with the number of students at grade level jumping to 64 percent from 56 percent the year before.

 "Ultimately, I expected more growth across the board," Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said. "But we have to acknowledge that everything was revamped this year and it was necessary for the long-term approach...This is a marathon not a sprint."

Vitti acknowleged that the district is in need of significant improvement.

"I think the theme is the same one, which is that Duval continues to be at the bottom when it comes to the big large urban (districts)," he said.

One part of that has to do with outside factors such as high concentrations of poverty within the district, he said. However, another challenge the district faces making sure that every student is being taught at grade-level in each school. While there are schools where most students achieve over and above grade-level, such as Jacksonville Beach Elementary, Vitti said there are many gaps that need to be addressed.  He said one way he plans to do so is by shifting some of the district's resources from professional development for teachers to more direct support for students.   

"This year we completely focused on building the capacity of adults...I think we're going to have no choice but to shift and balance that a little bit from working directly with adults, and shifting maybe in December or January to work directly with students," he said.

Vitti noted that like many of the numbers across the state, the low percentage of math proficient eighth- graders was due in large part to the overall decrease in secondary students taking the math exam. Instead about 1,513 advanced students in the district took the end-of- course Algebra 1 and Geometry exams. Eighth-graders in the district aren't required to take both.

It was a point also made by Florida Deputy Commissioner of  Accountability Juan Copa following the release of the scores Friday morning.

Statewide, the percent of eighth-graders with scores of a 3 or more on the math exam dropped from 51 percent last year to 47 percent.

"Going back to 2012, we have about 30,000 fewer test-takers taking the eighth-grade math, which is an indication that those students are enrolled in Algebra 1 or Geometry and taking those assessments and not the grade-level test," he said. 

Copa said the state will gain a better picture of middle school math performance once all of the end-of-course data is released.

Vitti said there will be no quick fixes for improvement, particularly when it comes to literacy in the district. The changes will take time and community involvement, he said. 

"The entire community has to embrace the issue of literacy at a higher level," he said.

He said the district's consistent gains in science will serve as a reference point for how to improve in other areas. Proficiency in science in both fifth and eighth grade this year increased by 2 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the neighboring districts of Clay, Putnam, Nassau and St. John’s counties, faired much better this year.

All four were among the counties highlighted by the Florida Department of Education in a release issued this morning.

“I applaud teachers and school leaders for their focus on increasing student academic performance,” Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a statement issued Friday. “As we transition to new standards and assessments next year, I am confident students will continue to succeed.”

Nassau achieved the most gains in the First Coast, with its biggest jump in 10th grade reading. The proficiency among 10th graders in the district grew from 59 percent last year to 67 percent this year.

Among the department’s highlights: 

  • Clay County improved in three of the seven assessment areas from 2013, led by a five percentage point increase in eighth grade science and a three percentage point increase in grades 6-8 reading.
  • Nassau County is one of five districts statewide that improved in all seven assessment areas announced today, led by a six percent increase in eighth grade science, four percentage point increase in fifth grade science, and up three percentage points in both grades 3-5 and 6-8 math.
  • Putnam County improved in five of the seven assessment areas announced today, moving up two percentage points in grades 9-10 reading, grades 3-5 math and both fifth grade and eighth grade science.
  • St. Johns County is also one of five districts that improved in all assessment areas announced today. Included is a four percentage point increase in eighth grade science and three percentage point increases in both grades 6-8 reading and grades 3-5 math.

For a complete list of the latest statewide assessment scores for 2014, click here.
Next year, a new assessment being developed by American Institutes for Research based on the Florida Standards will replace the FCAT 2.0.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.