For years, elementary school students made steady strides on the reading FCAT, while students in upper grades made more modest improvements. Now, to some extent, the reverse is happening.
Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores for lower grades were relatively flat or declining this year, while scores for middle and high school students rose in every grade for the third straight year, according to results released Tuesday.
The year-to-year changes are small. But since 2005, for example, the number of ninth graders reading at grade level has moved from 36 to 48 percent, while the number of tenth graders doing the same has ticked up from 32 to 39 percent.
Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith said he was pleased with the gains in upper grades but said the stalling in elementary grades will require Florida to "redouble its efforts."
The results, weeks late, were released under a cloud of database problems with testing contractor Pearson. But Smith said the department had "complete faith" in their accuracy.
"Parents should believe in them," he said.
The state has already fined Pearson $3.05 million. But the company may be liable for nearly $12 million more, according to penalty provisions in its contract. Department of Education officials said they will seek legislative approval to use the fines to reimburse districts for additional costs incurred because of the delay.
Tuesday's release included results for the FCAT in reading, math, science and writing. The math and reading FCAT is given to students in grades 3-10; the science FCAT to students in grades 5, 8 and 11; and the writing FCAT to students in grades 4, 8 and 10.
In reading, scores were up modestly in six grades and down in two (fourth and fifth).
Around Tampa Bay, Pinellas posted both the highest high school scores and the biggest gains in those grades, with 51 percent reading at grade level in ninth (up three percentage points) and 41 percent reading at grade level in tenth (up four percentage points).
In math, scores were up in five grades, down in two and the same in one. Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando all showed a jump of six percentage points among 10th-graders (to 72, 74 and 75 percent, respectively.)
In science, scores were up in all three grades tested.
In writing, scores were topsy turvy. Statewide, the percentage scoring at 4 or above on a 6-point scale fell five points in fourth grade (to 68 percent) and four points in eighth grade (to 76 percent). But they rocketed 12 percentage points (to 72 percent) in 10th grade.
Smith said it was "not psychometrically advisable" to make year-to-year comparisons with the writing test because of budget-driven changes, including reducing the number of graders for most essays from two to one.
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.