TAMPA — Reading scores slipped a bit this year for Hillsborough County third-graders on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, putting larger numbers of students in jeopardy of being retained at that grade level.
Some 68 percent of students scored at the proficient level, down from 71 percent last year.
Officials saw reason for encouragement in modest gains on the math portion of the test, from 74 to 76 percent of students at grade level, as well as some impressive gains in individual schools.
"We're seeing steady progress," said spokesman Stephen Hegarty, referring to the broad upward trend in recent years.
But it was hard to overlook the drop in the high-stakes reading scores, since students scoring at the lowest proficiency level must return to third grade for another year under state guidelines, unless they are deemed proficient through an alternate test or portfolio review.
More than 2,900 students, 19 percent of those tested, fell into that group this year, up two percentage points from last year.
State officials, too, focused on the long-term growth in third graders' performance on the FCAT, pointing to a 26 percentage point increase over nine years in the number of students at or above grade level in math. At the same time, minority students continued to narrow the achievement gap in math with their white peers.
But reading was a different story this year. Across Florida, 17 percent of students scored in the lowest category, up a point from last year.
Some Hillsborough schools showed gains, including a handful of the district's high-poverty "renaissance schools."
Lockhart Elementary boosted its reading scores by 13 points to 70 percent performing at grade level, and improved its math by 9 points to 75 percent. Robles Elementary added 10 percentage points on both sides, with 55 percent reaching proficiency in reading and 70 percent in math.
Just Elementary increased its percentage of readers at grade level by just a point, to 34 percent, but jumped to 53 percent at standard in math, a 16-point gain.
And teachers and students were celebrating at Burney Elementary in Plant City, where students improved their reading score by 10 points to 42 percent at standard, and their math scores by 22 points to 71 percent.
"We are thrilled and hooting and hollering," said Sally Stephens, Burney's principal.
She said teachers redoubled their efforts this year to improve on their state grade of C, checking students' progress daily.
"We monitor those kids and reteach when we need to," Stephens said. "We've gotten rid of the floss, if it's not related to the standards. We're just very focused."
Staff writer Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.