TAMPA — The FCAT writing results announced Wednesday were cause for celebration in Hillsborough County, where fourth-grade scores were the highest in the state.
"I'm on cloud nine," said Christi Buell, principal of Sulphur Springs Elementary School, where 99 percent of the fourth-graders scored 4 or above.
Districtwide, 90 percent of fourth-graders received at least a 4, which the state is about to declare the new level of proficiency for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Deer Park Elementary in Citrus Park had 100 percent of fourth-graders scoring at least a 4.
Elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area, the results were mixed. The percentage of fourth-graders with scores of 4 or higher was 86 in Pinellas County, 76 in Pasco and 74 in Hernando.
In Pinellas, officials were pleased with students' improvement, with scores of 4 or higher for both fourth- and 10th-graders above the state average. Eighth-grade results in Pinellas were tied with the state average.
No Pinellas school showed more gains in the percentages of students scoring a 4 or higher than Belleair Elementary, where 42 percent more kids reached the upper score compared to the previous year.
"Our students worked very hard to prepare for the test, and we are very pleased to see increases in results at all grade levels," Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen said in a statement.
For Temetia Creed, Hillsborough's supervisor of elementary writing, the district's stellar results reflected the benefits of daily writing periods in which children write freely on topics of their choosing.
"We don't use a program, and we are not a test prep district," Creed said. "We promote the growth of voice in every child."
She and Donna Calderoni, the writing specialist at Sulphur Springs, credited the writers workshop approach, which includes group encouragement and one-on-one sessions called "conferencing."
Rather than criticizing the young writers for their flaws, teachers ask open-ended questions to steer the students toward self-correction. "We embed grammar into the instruction," Creed said.
As they gained confidence and proficiency, Calderoni said, the students began to write for pleasure.
"We are growing lifelong writers," she said. "We have students at this very moment who are writing comic books. They are writing poetry books."
At Just Elementary, which borders a large public housing complex in West Tampa, writing specialist Shelly Gray has had similar results in just one year. Scores of 4 and better in fourth grade climbed from 52 percent last year to 93 percent this year.
And Gray has noticed an attitude shift. Where students used to be reluctant to write, she said, they now seek her out between sessions, pulling papers out of their pockets. "They always want you to read their work," she said.
Both schools offer instruction after hours in all subjects, including writing. "It's a seamless approach," Calderoni said.
Officials in Pasco and Hernando counties vowed to build on the progress they have made this past year.
Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino said her district is infusing writing in all grade levels and subjects. Like Hillsborough, Pasco saw its greatest success at a low-income school: Rodney B. Cox Elementary in Dade City, where 98 percent of fourth-graders scored at least a 4.
In Hernando, the good news was that scores are climbing.
"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."
Staff writers Rebecca Catalanello, Tony Marrero and Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report.