TAMPA — It was a good year for writing in Hillsborough schools, with FCAT scores released Thursday showing students outshining their peers in both the region and the state.
The county's middle school students continued to top most of Florida's 67 districts, with 93 percent of students scoring at proficient levels or better, compared with a state average of 90 percent.
High school scores were unchanged from last year, with 82 percent of students at standard or better, five points above average.
But it was the fourth grade scores that prompted the broadest smiles Thursday, with 88 percent of students scoring proficient or better, up 13 percentage points from last year.
"It's been the best day," said Temetia Creed, a district writing supervisor. "There are so many schools to be proud of."
Several elementary schools that had been struggling with their overall performance on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test showed double-digit gains.
Sulphur Springs Elementary boosted its scores by 15 percentage points, while Broward Elementary jumped 29 points. And the USF/Patel Elementary School, until last summer a charter school, increased the number of students at proficient levels by 45 points, bringing the percentage of students at standard to 90 percent.
Such gains didn't happen by teaching students to write simplistic, formula-driven essays, Creed said.
Writing teachers from those schools showed up for multiple training sessions on weekends and developed a writers' workshop approach that emphasizes one-on-one conferencing with student writers.
"We are very much anti-formula," she added. "They were able to grow each child individually, one by one, each month."
Starting next year, students will need a grade of 4 out of 6 to pass the writing test, rather than 3.5. But teachers have already been pushing for that standard in anticipation of the change, said middle school writing supervisor Max Hutto.
That's a big change from the way teachers used to operate, before the push for state assessments, he said.
"I assigned writing, I didn't teach it," Hutto said, recalling his teaching days. "Our teachers across the state have become pretty proficient at teaching writing."
Additional FCAT scores for reading and math are scheduled to be released later this month, with school grades due in July.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.