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Duval County Achieves Highest Graduation Rate To Date

Rhema Thompson

More high school students graduated in Duval County in 2014 than ever before, newly released state data shows.

The Florida Department of Educationreleased the newest high school grades and graduation ratesfor the state Thursday morning.

According to the data, the state as a whole achieved its highest graduation rate in 11 years, but fell significantly in A and B grades.

In Duval, 74 percent of students successfully completed high school this year, up two percentage points from last year and more than 10 points from four years ago.

However, the data still comes short of the statewide average. The state department reported that 76.1 percent of Florida students graduated. That’s up by about half a percentage point from last year.

But Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the increase is a sign the district is moving in the right direction and noted that the district surpassed most of its large, urban peers in narrowing the racial achievement gap. Out the largest seven district's in the state, the district comes in second in African- American graduation.

"Not only are more children ranking, but we’re narrowing that gap at an accelerated pace," he said.

Data also showed a dramatic drop in A and B schools across the state this year. Last year, about 83 percent of schools received an A or a B. This year, 71 percent of schools achieved a top grade. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the drop was due to higher level expectations this year.

Under state board of education rules, when 75 percent or more of high schools in the state achieve a B or higher, the state is required to raise grading threshhold.

“The grading scale is adjusted upward. so that we are always encouraging continued improvement,” Stewart said.

This year just 10 percent of high schools across the state saw letter grade improvement. Duval County's Sandalwood High School and Terry Parker High School were among them.

Duval’s Terry Parker High School joined the list of A and B schools this year. Principal Scott Schneider says the school improved from a C due to a dedicated staff.

"Without a phenomenal teaching faculty, without a student body that buys in and is really is on board and make sure that our students live up to our potential...we can't achieve these types of results," he said.

Across the district, 14 high schools in the district received an A or B, including 2 charters. Five high schools received Cs and two received D's. One school - Douglas Anderson Academy of the Arts - received an incomplete, however, the school has achieved enough points to receive an A.

For a second time in a row, none of the high schools in the district received an F.

However, Vitti said with the new Florida Standards Assessment on its way, F's will be likely next year.

"Going into next year, the proposal is to remove the acceleration components of high school grade," Vitti said, referring to a change to discount student participation in accelerated courses as part of a school's grade.

"We we remove them, we go back to everything being about a state assessment, not necessarily about high schools being a springboard into college or the world of work."

Vitti has been increasingly critical of changes to the state's accountability system including the rollout of the new Florida Standards Assessment that has yet to be field-tested in the state.

"We don't know what we don't. This test has not been properly field tested in Florida. We don't have much to compare it to, so as everyone's working hard there's a high degree of angst about not being able to predict where we'll be."

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.