Pinellas school officials expressed cautious optimism Tuesday that the district's 10th-graders may be rounding a corner on the reading portion of the FCAT.
For the second year in a row, the number of students at grade level or above rose slightly after declining every year from 2001 to 2006. Forty percent of 10th-graders are now proficient, according to this year's release of scores in reading, math and science.
It's hardly something to boast about, but it could indicate a positive trend, said deputy superintendent Harry Brown.
"Students who have been getting interventions since elementary school are now coming into high school," Brown said. "It's paying off."
While individual high schools showed modest gains, Osceola Fundamental raised its 10th-grade reading scores by 11 percentage points. Northeast High improved 9 percentage points, and St. Petersburg High jumped 8 percentage points.
Ninth-grade reading scores rose as well, with 14 of 16 high schools showing gains. The most notable improvement came at Pinellas Park High, up 13 percentage points, and at Countryside High, where principal Gerald Schlereth said a special learning environment for freshmen was key to his school's 10 percentage point gain.
Statewide, the number of ninth-graders reading at grade level or above increased 5 percentage points, to 46 percent. Tenth-graders moved up 4 percentage points, to 38 percent.
And while overall science scores remain poor at both the state and district levels, students made slight gains there. The number on grade level and above in Pinellas rose from 39 to 41 percent.
Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith highlighted the long-term trend, saying the numbers are "nowhere where we need to be, but our students are showing the kind of progress we like."
Florida elementary school and middle school students showed gains in every grade level and subject except one: fifth-grade reading.
Smith called the statewide drop of 5 percentage points "a normal fluctuation." He dismissed suggestions that it could be tied to problems with the third-grade FCAT in 2006. Students who took that test — this year's fifth-graders — got inflated scores. Some may have been promoted by mistake.
Despite Smith's assurances, the drop in Pinellas is striking. Sixty-one of the district's 82 elementaries declined, and 15 suffered losses of 15 percentage points or more. Gulf Beaches Elementary and Sandy Lane Elementary experienced declines of 26 and 22 percentage points, respectively.
District reading supervisor Pamela Moore calls that "fishy," especially when some of Pinellas' schools struggling the most, like Blanton and Clearview Avenue, showed gains.
"It does just kind of jump off the page, but we can't put our finger on it," Moore said, promising that the district will delve into the numbers in the next several days.
Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Donna Winchester can be reached at