A statue in front of the Duval County Public Schools headquarters. | Claire Heddles, Jacksonville TodayA statue in front of the Duval County Public Schools headquarters. | Claire Heddles, Jacksonville Today

New grades set baseline for schools; St. Johns ranks 2nd in Florida

Published on December 13, 2023 at 9:49 pm

The Florida Department of Education released its long-awaited school district grades this week.

In years past, the district-wide and individual school grades were released in the summertime, but a delay came after FDOE switched to the Florida Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) standards for the 2022-23 academic year, the period reflected in the new grades.

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Though the two scores are not apples-to-apples comparisons, all five Northeast Florida school districts earned the same grade they had in the 2021-22 academic year.

Districts will not be punished for the results, which will be treated as a baseline going forward.

The grades "provide a starting point for future achievement,”  Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing schools rise to the occasion as they continue to provide Florida students a first-rate education.”

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Under the new standards, districts were scored on seven criteria: student passage rates in language arts, math, science and social studies; high school graduation rate (taken from the '21-'22 school year); the percentage of middle school students who passed an assessment and/or industry certification and the percentage of students who passed an accelerated exam like Advanced Placement tests.

Duval in a 'healthy competition' to improve

Overall, Duval officials say the district is in line with the seven large, urban districts in the state – Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange and Pinellas counties – in terms of points earned for each of the seven components.

Download an Excel sheet of individual school grades for all Florida schools.

The Duval school district earned 65% of the possible points in the FDOE calculation, which put it ahead of Broward and Hillsborough counties and equal with Orange County. Miami-Dade led the way among the large districts, with 69%.

Dana Kriznar, a blonde woman with a blue blazer at a podium in Duval County Public Schools headquarters
Interim superintendent Dana Kriznar talks to reporters prior to the start of the 2023-24 academic year | Claire Heddles, Jacksonville Today

“What we have seen on national assessments over the years is that Duval and other urban Florida districts do very well compared to other urban cities in the nation,” Duval County Public Schools interim Superintendent Dana Kriznar said in a statement shared with Jacksonville Today following the release of the grades. “Since this set of results is our baseline for state comparisons, we are working to improve at a faster rate than our large county rivals. That’s a healthy competition that really benefits students and will keep Florida on top nationally.”

Duval had the lowest graduation rate of Florida’s large, urban districts: 86%. And the 45% of Duval students who passed the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST) reading test was 5 percentage points lower than the next-closest urban district, Hillsborough County.

Duval students fared best in social studies: 65% of students passed that exam. Only 51% of DCPS students passed math and science exams.

The Florida Department of Education did not respond to repeated requests for context about school grades.

“Adapting instruction to new standards and news tests is never easy, and our educators are clearly doing the work to serve their students," Kriznar's statement said.

Elsewhere in Northeast Florida, the baseline results indicated St. Johns County is no longer the top school district in the state. St. Johns County earned the second-highest amount of points behind Lafayette County.

St. Johns' reading, math and science scores were higher than Lafayette's, but, the rural community in the Big Bend was superior to the fast-growing Jacksonville suburb in graduation rate (98% to 93%) as well as the percentage of students who passed college and career accelerated testing (91% to 63%).

St. Johns had the highest percentage of students who passed the state’s English (71%), math (74%), science (76%) and social studies (82%) exams in the six-county Northeast Florida region.

author image Reporter email Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at will@jaxtoday.org.

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