Math scores in Pinellas County fell in almost every grade tested this year, according to Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results released Monday.
The percentage of students scoring at grade level or above fell in six of seven grades tested and stayed the same in one. In eighth grade, the percentage dropped from 67 to 59. In fourth grade, from 73 to 69.
"Math is obviously an area that we have a lot of work to do," said Pinellas associate superintendent Bill Lawrence.
Around Tampa Bay, the declining math scores in Pinellas stood out, although some grades in Hernando County had similar problems with math.
For example, 69 percent of fourth graders scored at or above grade level, a six point drop from last year. For sixth graders, it was 57 percent, or five points below last year's figure. Fifth and eighth graders saw slight increases.
The tougher standards were evident, Hernando superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.
"I was talking to one teacher who pointed out this year they'd been prepared to deal with fractions and things of that sort for the fifth grade test and it showed up on the fourth grade test," Blavatt said.
Hernando saw modest increases in reading scores in all but fourth and sixth grades, where scores dipped slightly.
The results in Hillsborough and Pasco were mixed and incremental.
The state results included scores for reading in grades 4-10; for math in grades 4-8 and 10; and for the science test, which is given to students in grades 5, 8 and 11.
Because the reading and math tests were different this year - based on new, tougher standards - it's hard to compare how students did this year versus last year. But to gauge progress for accountability purposes, the state used a statistical method called "equipercentile linking" that allows it to see how well students did compared to each other. The state likened it to grading on a curve.
With this method, the percentage of students statewide who scored in each of the five achievement levels are the same as last year. But the percentage at the district and school levels varies.
"The comparison is a valid comparison of last year's performance to this year's performance," Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith said in a conference call with reporters. "I don't think there's any excuse for poor performance because of the process we're going through right now."
This year's results come as Florida's whole testing regimen is in the midst of a major transition.
Most of the reading and math tests were new versions this year, dubbed FCAT 2.0. The ninth-grade math FCAT was dropped as students began taking another type of standardized test, called an end-of-course exam, in Algebra I. The tenth-grade math FCAT - for now, still a graduation requirement - was used for the last time.
All three science FCATs were also used for the last time. In the future, the state will rely on science end-of-course exams in high school. It will roll out FCAT 2.0 versions of the fifth- and eighth-grade science tests next year.
Statewide, students showed improvement on all three science tests, but in no grade did more than 51 percent of students score at grade level or above.
"I'm very encouraged by the continued progress we are seeing in science, but the overall performance of our students is still far too low," Smith said in a written statement. "Important changes have recently been made to accelerate this progress, including increased graduation requirements that include critical science courses, our next generation curriculum standards that hone in on core science concepts and our Race to the Top win that has given us additional resources to concentrate on this vital subject area."
In Pasco, Schools saw only incremental changes in the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level on the FCAT.
In reading, Pasco schools met or exceeded the state passing percentage in all grades but tenth. In math, Pasco came in below the state percentage in all grades but eighth and tenth.
Science FCAT results showed Pasco students making slight improvements, similar to the state, but with no group surpassing 47 percent passing.
In Hillsborough, officials said they were still analyzing the data but saw no immediate patterns, with some school-level scores rising and others falling.
"What I'm seeing is the schools that have always done well aren't doing as well, and the lower performing schools are having some success," said spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.
Staff writers Jeffrey S. Solochek and Tom Marshall contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.