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Duval County schools to face possible inquiry into test scores

Polk, Manatee counties may also be impacted by inquiry

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Coalition of School Board Members group will be asking the state to investigate high state test scores in multiple school districts, including Duval County, WJCT-89.9 News reported.

The request has not yet been made. 

This year, 84 percent of Duval County students taking the civics End of Course exam passed, an 18-point improvement from the past year, according to News4Jax's news partner WJCT. The state average is 71 percent.

"The district is extremely excited about our student performance on the 2018 Civics End of Course Exam," Duval County's chief academic officer, Mason Davis, said in a statement to WJXT. "The student's incredible scores are a direct result of the tireless efforts of our teachers, students and parents."  

In 2017, 8,649 Duval students took the civics test. This school year, only 5,730 students took the test.
The coalition said that fewer test takers likely contributed to higher scores.

“Several school districts made dramatic improvements in their passing rates on middle-school civics tests – a significant component in the state’s school grading formula,” the coalition wrote in an email. “A closer look at the DOE’s data shows those districts also saw dramatic declines in the number of students who took the tests.”

Davis told WJCT that there was no wrongdoing. He said that even with fewer students taking the test, the district complied with state statutes and school board policies.

Davis said that the change started with the district’s yearly review of the student progression plan and master scheduling guidelines.

“Through those reviews, multiple data points are reviewed and changes are made to better prepare students by adding prerequisites and course progression pathways,” he told WJCT.

Duval County schools saw similar results on the biology exam in the 2015-2016 year and on the algebra 1 and geometry exams during the 2016-2017 year.

“This (year’s) change is also consistent with algebra I, geometry, and biology in the year of those major percentage point increases,” Davis said. “Moving forward, there will be an increase in the number of students assessed each year.”

The coalition, which includes Duval County School Board member Scott Shine, wants the state to delay releasing middle school grades in certain counties until scores are investigated.

“A-F grades are designed to give parents clear, transparent measures of school performance,” Shine told WJCT. “If schools game the system, they are essentially lying to parents about the performance of their children's schools.”

The coalition will also ask the state to investigate scores from Polk and Manatee counties. Duval County’s new superintendent, Diana Greene, is coming from Manatee County.

The Florida Department of Education said Wednesday morning it has not received a request for investigation.  

“The Florida Department of Education takes very seriously the importance of valid measure and assessment of Florida schools. School grades will be released as soon as they are ready. There is an existing process for residents to raise concerns for the department’s review," FDOE Press Secretary Audrey Walden wrote in a statement emailed to WJCT.

Chief Academic Officer Mason Davis full statement:

The district is extremely excited about our student performance on the 2018 Civics End of Course Exam. The students’ incredible scores are a direct result of the tireless efforts of our teachers, students, and parents.  The 18-percentage point increase in performance on the Civics exam is consistent with increases students have demonstrated in other courses that end with a state end of course exam. In 2016, the district increased 12-percentage points in Biology. Last year, Algebra 1 and Geometry increased by 23 and 32 percentage points respectively. 

"Other districts have had major increases in scores as well. Hillsborough increased 14-percentage points in US History between 2013 and 2014, and Palm Beach increased 17-percentage points on the Civics exam from 2014 to 2015.  

"The number of students assessed in Civics in 2018 did decline. Each year, the district reviews the Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines. Through those reviews, multiple data points are reviewed and changes are made to better prepare students by adding prerequisites and course progression pathways. The Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines meet all requirements in state statute, state board rules, and Duval County Public School’s Board Policy Manual. Specifically for Civics, Law Studies was included as a recommended prerequisite for students based on their most recent FSA ELA score and Lexile Level.

"This change is also consistent with Algebra I, Geometry, and Biology in the year of those major percentage point increases. Moving forward, there will be an increase in the number of students assessed each year. This is also consistent with Algebra 1, Geometry, and Biology. Each year, the district reviews the Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines.  

"The fact that any organization would call for an investigation into improprieties on assessments due to performance increases is an affront to all of the teachers and students who worked so diligently to prepare for the exam, and their families who supported them. We are very proud of their efforts, and our results on recent state and national assessments are a product of their continued pursuit of academic excellence."

Click here to read WJCT's original story.