BROOKSVILLE —The writing skills of Hernando's students are moving in the right direction.
The district made overall gains at all grade levels on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, according to results released by the state on Thursday.
"Are they where they should be? Nope," superintendent Bryan Blavatt said. "We've got room to improve, but as long as the line is moving up and not staying flat or going down, I'm happy."
Students in fourth, eighth and 10th grades take the test. Essays are scored on a six-point scale, with a grade of 4 considered proficient.
The average Hernando essay score improved slightly from last year at every grade level, to 3.9 for fourth grade; 4.1 for eight grade; and 4.0 for 10th grade.
Nearly every school in the district improved, and several schools saw double-digit gains in the percentage of students scoring proficient or better.
Hernando's fourth-graders showed the biggest improvement, with 74 percent proficient or better. That's eight points better than last year but below the state average of 81 percent.
The percentage of eighth-graders scoring proficient or better jumped six points, to 80 percent, which is a couple of points lower than the state figure.
"I'm still not willing to accept that we're not at or above the state average," Blavatt said.
Hernando's 10th-graders did beat the state average by two points, with 77 scoring proficient.
There was especially good news for two former D high schools working to keep their momentum alive. Central High jumped eight points, to 74 percent, and Hernando High rose by 12 points, to 80 percent.
Eastside Elementary, a Title I school and one of the lowest-performing districts in writing last year, shot up 21 points, to 72 percent.
"I'm just so proud of our excellent teachers, and we have so much parental support," said principal Bev Chapin.
The school has a dedicated writing teacher who spends time with every grade level every day, with extra time for fourth-graders, Chapin said. That was on top of efforts to incorporate writing skills into other subjects.
"Our fourth-graders are getting a double and triple dip in learning how to write," Chapin said.
At Brooksville Elementary, also a Title I school, the percentage of students scoring proficient or better jumped 18 points, to 82 percent.
Much of that success is due to effort put in beyond the confines of the first and last bells, said principal Mary LeDoux.
Last summer, the county's fourth-grade teachers scrutinized their incoming classes to find out which students would likely need remedial help. The school's writing coach trained teachers in expanding vocabularies. Teachers even volunteered time to lead a Saturday writing camp, where fun activities served as a basis for vocabulary lessons.
"My teachers never say, 'I'm not doing that because it's not in my contract,' and I think that really shows in the data," LeDoux said.
Year-to-year comparisons aren't as telling as trends over, say, five years. But it's problematic to compare this year's batch of writing scores to those prior to 2010 because of changes to the way the tests were administered and graded that year.
Results from the reading, math and science portions of the FCAT are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.