TAMPA — Hillsborough schools had something to celebrate Wednesday with the release of third-grade reading and math scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The results showed 71 percent reading on grade level, a 4-point increase over last year. Math scores also ticked up slightly.
Overall, Hillsborough still lagged slightly behind the state. But the upward trend gave local educators reason to boast.
The mood was positively euphoric at south Tampa's Grady Elementary, with teachers hugging in the halls. The percentage of third-graders reading on grade level there soared by 21 points, to 83 percent.
Principal Melanie Bottini credited lessons tailored to each student. By midmorning, she said teachers already were thinking ahead to next year — and showing her color-coded charts breaking the data down by class.
"It's what you do with it that matters," Bottini said. "We're using it in a positive manner to continue improving."
In reading and math, Hillsborough saw about 100 schools making gains. About 40 schools posted declines.
Third-graders have a lot riding on the results. Those who score in the lowest level of a five-point scale could be forced to repeat the grade.
That's a danger for 17 percent of Hillsborough third-graders in reading. Eleven percent failed in math. But these students have other options to demonstrate their skills.
The results also weigh heavily into the state's formula for school grades. For schools like Foster Elementary, currently an F school, emotions run high on days when FCAT scores are released.
Principal Peter Russo got three calls from his assistant principal before school started. She was glued to the computer, awaiting the results. By the third call around 7 a.m., she had news.
Sixty-two percent of Foster's third-graders were reading at grade level, a 24-point increase. Math scores also were up, though not by as much.
Russo is anxious to see the test scores from the other grade levels, which are expected in early June. But he knows this much: Foster's days as an F school are numbered.
"There's no way," he said, asked if Foster would earn another failing grade this year. "We are well on track."
Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. For your daily report on Tampa Bay schools, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.