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Duval Dropout Recovery Data Raises School Board Concerns

Duval County Public Schools

Students in most of Duval County’s dropout recovery programs received an average of about two academic credits or fewer this year, according to data released by district officials this week.  The new figures didn't sit well with some school board members Tuesday.

 “We should be appalled by these numbers,” Duval County School Board Chairwoman Becki Couch said.

The district presented the latest data on recovery programs to the school board.

The nine programs, including the district-run Bridge to Success, several charter schools and one privately-run academy, are aimed at steering high school dropouts and at-risk youth back on the path to graduation and success.

One core class typically equals one academic credit in Florida. Over the course of high school, a total of three or more credits in each core subject is generally required to graduate.

In a few of the dropout recovery programs such as the School for Accelerated Learning and Technology - which is run by a charter management company - and the district’s Bridge To Success program, high schoolers earned an average of about six credits in 2014.

However, in most programs, the numbers were lower. For example, at Biscayne High School, students earned fewer than two credits on average, data show. That school along with Murray Hill and Lone Star high schools are operated by charter management company Accelerated Learning Solutions.

“When you look at the work that we do and then you look at these charters, there is no accountability for this,” Couch said.

According to Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters, charter schools that have less than three years worth of student data or too few students with state test scores do not receive school improvement ratings from the state department of education. Most of the recovery programs have a very small student population, district officials said.

But the district has the ability to conduct its own evaluation of charter schools in many cases, Couch said. It is a possibility board members discussed briefly Tuesday. Couch said they might revisit the idea when contracts with some of charters are up for renewal.

The district’s contract with dropout recovery program Lone Star High School - owned by Accelerated Learning Solutions - will be up for renewal next year.

However, representatives from Lone Star and two other dropout recovery programs said the data cited by the district does not provide proper context. There are important factors that aren’t accounted for, such as fluctuating enrollment, said Angela Whitford-Narine.

Whitford-Narine oversees operations of Biscayne, Murray Hill and Lone Star high schools.

“Half of our students did not arrive until the last half of the year, so of course, using the student average as a metric won’t work,” she said.

She added that students who attended the three schools showed an increase of 33 percent in credits when compared to their performance prior to enrollment.

Rachel Maldonado with Jacksonville charter MYcroSchool, where about 48 percent of students earned three credits or more, pointed out that because the school is a dropout recovery program, many students only need to earn one or two additional credits to graduate, hence, the low average. She also noted that students in the program often need more time to develop basic academic skills.

That was also echoed by Eurmon Hervey, head of Catapult Academy, where about 17 percent of students earned at least three credits this year. Catapult is a private dropout intervention program contracted with the district. The company acquired the program in February, Hervey said.

"We want to make sure that we're controlling for all the right numbers, but definitely there will be a focus on ensuring that these students are successful and the way to do that is to monitor their attendance and progression in their respective courses," he said.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.