BROOKSVILLE — A few points of pride and plenty of room for improvement. This year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results offer both for Hernando County students and teachers, school officials said Tuesday.
In nearly all grades in reading, math and science, overall scores either held steady or continued a trend of improvement. In a few grades, students showed marked progress.
Still, there is more work to be done. For example, on the reading portion of the test, 55 percent of eighth-graders scored a 3 or higher — at or above grade level — and 36 percent of 10th graders did so. The state averages are 55 percent and 39 percent respectively.
Hernando's fifth-graders continue to suffer through the math portion of the test, with 59 percent performing at or above grade level. That's four points lower than the state number. In science, 37 percent of high school juniors scored at or above grade level, a point lower than the state average.
The district performed well on the writing portion, which saw modified scoring techniques this year. The percentage of fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders meeting standards were in the mid 90s.
Several schools saw steep drops from last year in certain grade levels and subject areas, while others saw encouraging bumps.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt, looking at his first large batch of FCAT scores since taking his post in April, said he's not satisfied. "I'm not very pleased at all that we're not scoring higher," he said. "It's going to be a high priority for me in this upcoming year."
Year-to-year comparisons must come with a disclaimer: Comparing different groups of students at the same grade level is problematic. But trends emerge when looking at Hernando's scores since 2007:
• In math, 75 percent of 10th graders performed at or above grade level. That's up six points from last year and a whopping 12 points higher than 2007. It's also a couple of points better than the state average.
• In reading, 48 percent of ninth-graders scored at grade level or better. Not a high number, but 10 points better than 2007 and equal to the state performance.
• In science, 51 percent of fifth-graders and 45 percent of eighth-graders scored at above or grade level. Again, not high numbers, but they are nine and seven points higher, respectively, than 2007.
While these points offer broad brushstrokes, the key will be to zero in on classrooms.
"We have teachers, year after year, (whose) students perform well no matter who walks in the door," Blavatt said. "We need to find out what they're doing right."XX
Hernando County earned an overall B grade last year in the state's accountability system. School grades are not expected to arrive for several more weeks. In the meantime, staffers will dig into each school's results.
The stakes are high at struggling Central and Hernando high schools. Both are D schools currently under some level of state oversight and face stronger state sanctions if scores didn't show signs of improvement.
Both schools can point to just such signs.
Hernando High showed improvement in four out of five categories. Freshmen boasted double-digit gains over last year in reading, with 46 percent at or above grade level. The percentage of sophomores scoring at grade level or above in math shot up 12 points to 70.
The lowest-performing quartile of students have hurt Hernando High in the past, however, causing the school to drop a letter grade. It remains to be seen whether that will happen again.
"Initially on the face it looks pretty exciting," said Hernando principal Ken Pritz. "You would hope that would at least get us out of a D."
Central's reading scores held steady, but the school continues to improve in math, with 73 percent of ninth-graders scoring at or above grade level and 75 percent of 10th graders doing so. Central also made gains in science, with 35 percent scoring at or above grade level — seven points higher than last year.
Those kinds of performances likely contributed to a statewide trend.
For years, Florida elementary school students made steady strides on the FCAT, while students in upper grades made more modest progress. Now, to some extent, the reverse is happening.
State scores for lower grades were flat or declining this year, while scores for middle and high school students rose in almost every grade in reading and math.
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 problems with testing contractor Pearson, but Smith said the department had "complete faith" in their accuracy.
"Parents should believe in them," he said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.
Reporter Ron Matus contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.