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Duval Board Member On Student Achievement: ‘Business As Usual Cannot Continue’

Lindsey Kilbride
Duval County high school students change classes.

“Business As Usual Cannot Continue” is what Duval County School Board member Becki Couch said with regards to setting student achievement goals Tuesday.

The Duval County School Board and superintendent workshopped its strategic plan and talked about "subgroup" data.

Strategic Plan

Credit Duval County Public Schools
Vitti presented strategic plan targets to the board, Tuesday.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti presented targets for improving Duval student achievement in areas like math and reading last month. Some board members said the plan wasn’t aggressive enough, but Vitti brought forth the same plan Tuesday.

Last school year, 44 percent of 10th graders passed the Reading Florida State Assessment. Vitti is now targeting a  2 percentage point increase per year for the next three years. In K-2 reading, with 52 percent of students reading on grade level, he’s projected goals of 1.5 percentage points this year and .5 the following two years.

Board member Ashley Smith Juarez said, based on Vitti’s projection, it would take more than 90 years for 100 percent of second graders to be reading at grade level.

Board member Paula Wright called the targets depressing.

Vitti said the targets are calculated using achievement data from other “Big 7” districts of  a similar size and demographic to Duval, including Broward, Dade, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties. State averages are also factored into the calculation.

But Vitti said he doesn't want his proposed strategic plan to reflect his expectations for students. He said he believes 100 percent of students are capable of achieving proficiency in these areas.

Credit Duval County Public Schools
Vitti presented strategic plan targets to the board Tuesday.

“Targets are more complicated than what you just believe,” he said.

He said instead of coming up with a random number that looks appealing, the targets are data driven.

Board member Connie Hall said if the district is working on a pipeline of interventions and changes — like language arts curriculum changes in elementary schools and additional phonics components — that should influence higher targets.

When it comes to literacy, Hall said teachers need training and support so reading is a common thread in all classes.

Couch said teachers also need to understand why they’re instructed to teach certain ways or give certain assignments. She said it matters that teachers believe in what they’re doing.

Board members ended Tuesday’s meeting by sending Vitti back to come up with new targets. Board members also agreed to discuss their core beliefs and expectations for the district.

Subgroup Performance

Board members have also been concerned with academic achievement gaps between Duval’s subgroups.

Last year, 62 percent of white students in the 3rd through 10th grades were reading at grade level, while 31 percent of African Americans were at grade level and 59 percent of hispanic students, according to Florida State Assessment scores.

In high school Algebra I, 41 percent of white students passed the end of course exam proficiently, while 21 percent of African American students and 27 percent of hispanic students passed.

Board members agreed those gaps have to close, but they didn’t recommend setting different targets for different races.

“It’s signaling and sending a message that there are groups who can achieve and cannot achieve,” Hall said.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.