TAMPA — Hillsborough County eighth-graders scored the highest of any school district on Florida's writing exam this spring, according to state results released Thursday.
Almost 14,000 eighth-graders across Hillsborough took the test, bringing home a mean score of 4.6 out of a possible 6 overall, higher than the state average of 4.2.
"The eighth grade is doing exceptionally well," said Michael Grego, Hillsborough County's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. He credited the showing to strong teacher training that encourages students to write in all subjects — not only in language arts classes.
The scores weren't as high among the county's fourth- and 10th-graders, however. Fourth-graders slipped a point from last year to 3.8 and high school sophomores also dropped in their combined scores by one point to 4.0.
Hillsborough school officials were exploring what caused the drop. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test writing portion asks students to write essays in response to an assigned topic. The writing prompts require students to respond with either an expository or persuasive essay. But in 2006, state educators tacked on a multiple-choice portion.
Hillsborough educators hypothesized that schools that typically do well on the FCAT focused heavily on the portion of the writing test involving multiple-choice questions.
"Our focus might have been wrong," Hillsborough testing director John Hilderbrand said. "Our focus might have been more on the grammar than on the writing."
The test has been criticized in the past for teaching students formulaic writing. But Grego said he believes the test offers students a reason to learn basic writing skills that can be enhanced through more advanced study like composition and creative writing classes.
"I think it's a beginning to writing skills," Grego said. "I don't think its an end."
Times staff writer Letitia Stein contributed to this report.