One year into a historic charter school takeover, Jefferson County, Fla. has come a long way. But it’s got a long way to go.
Last year, the state approved an unprecedented turnaround effort in the high-poverty rural school district. The county’s lone primary and secondary schools became Jefferson County K-12, run by the South Florida charter operator Somerset Academy. At the time, leaders cautioned it could take years to improve Florida’s lowest-performing school system.
Recent results on the Florida Standards Assessment and math end-of-course exams show signs of progress — but also underscore the magnitude of the task.
Jefferson County’s overall pass rate on state reading tests jumped by 25 percent from a year earlier. Only one other district, rural Liberty County, made a similar improvement.
Jefferson County’s passing rate jumped by a whopping 60 percent in math for grades 3-8. No other district came close to that rate of improvement, but no district had as far to climb. Last year, Jefferson was Florida’s lowest-performing district in this category. This year, it narrowly surpassed DeSoto County to claim the second-lowest passing rate in the state.
On crucial end-of-course algebra exams, the picture is even more heartbreaking. Jefferson County more than tripled the rate of students scoring level 3 or higher, but still has the lowest passing rate in the state.
And in geometry, the story is similar. Jefferson’s district-wide passing rate rose from a dismal 5 percent to 13 percent. It, too, remains lowest in the state.
The improvements among younger math students may leave cause for hope that the high school end-of-course test results will continue improving in the years to come.
There are rarely miracles in public education; just a lot of hard work. Somerset Academy has begun to turn the ship in Jefferson County, but a lot of hard work remains.