TAMPA — Measured against urban school districts — a group that includes Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia — the Hillsborough County school system is top-drawer.
The annual Trial Urban District Assessment ranked Hillsborough's fourth- and eighth-graders at or near first place in math and reading.
The tests are voluntary, and Hillsborough has participated for the last three years.
Measured against 20 other urban districts, Hillsborough's fourth graders showed higher proficiency rates — 43 percent for math and 40 percent for reading — than the nation and Florida, and higher than large cities.
The same was true in eighth grade reading. For eighth grade math, Hillsborough was tied with the nation and better than the other groups.
"I love that large red line, don't you?" said superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who called a news conference and displayed graphs that show Hillsborough at or near the top.
The data also show Hillsborough students are far less likely to be eligible for free lunch — an indicator of poverty — than their counterparts. The free-lunch percentage for fourth grade students was 58 in Hillsborough, 94 in Philadelphia and 100 in Cleveland.
Other cities in the group also had greater percentages of minority students than Hillsborough, which had the second-highest percentage of white students.
Aware of these traits, district officials generally compare Hillsborough with Charlotte, N.C., and Austin, Texas.
In math, Hillsborough's scores were just below those two cities. In reading, Hillsborough students beat both cities.
While acknowledging the different demographics in the study group, Elia pointed out that when minorities, disabled students and English language learners were considered separately, Hillsborough still scored top marks.
"That means all of our students are contributing to our success," she said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.