Plenty of Pinellas County educators braced themselves for bad news on Thursday.
So when the state Department of Education released third-grade reading and math scores, it was somewhat of a relief to see the district's overall scores were not that far from the state's.
School-by-school results, meanwhile, varied wildly.
Fifty-six percent of Pinellas County's third-graders read at or above grade-level, according to the scores.
That's on par with statewide results for Florida's third-graders, but it indicates a drop in performance over 2011.
How much of a drop depends on how you look at it.
Last year, 74 percent of the district's third-graders achieved a proficient score on the mandatory standardized reading test. But, according to state Department of Education calculations, only 58 percent of those kids would have done so last year had they been held to the higher standards required on the tougher 2012 exam.
On balance, a 2 percentage point drop is much easier to swallow.
Math scores remained steady at 50 percent of Pinellas County's third-graders scoring at or above grade level. Adjusting for the new score scale, state officials believe that's about the same as last year's 78 percent, though it's 8 percentage points lower than the 2012 statewide average.
At Sanderlin Elementary in St. Petersburg, which received a D grade last year, teachers were especially pleased with their reading results.
Fifty percent of students this year scored at or above grade level — a 19-point improvement over 2011, once the higher standards are factored in.
Principal Denise Miller said her school was celebrating.
"I think it's more than the academics for us," Miller said, referring to the school's international focus. "I think we just have stayed steady and have put a lot of thought into what we do."
Twenty-five elementary schools, including two charter schools, made gains when the converted scores were considered.
Those that saw improvements of 10 percentage points or more in their passage rates included Athenian Academy charter school, Anona Elementary, Bay Point Elementary, Sanderlin Elementary, Lakeview Fundamental and 74th Street Elementary.
Schools that saw large losses in the percentages of students scoring at or above grade level compared with last year included Alfred Adler charter school, Curlew Creek, Fugitt, Highland Lakes, Sexton, San Jose, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, McMullen-Booth, Plato Academy South charter, Plumb and Woodlawn elementary schools.
Woodlawn, Fairmount Park and Lakewood elementary schools, in particular, had little room to slip. According to the state scores, those high-poverty schools have just 22, 18 and 23 percent of third-graders scoring proficient in reading, respectively.
At San Jose in Dunedin, where the drop was a heartbreaking 28 percentage points even after the harder test was taken into consideration, the news was particularly difficult to understand.
Just last week, 90 percent of the school's fourth-graders scored proficient on the FCAT writing test — much higher than the district and state average.
"I think we have done as great a job as last year," principal Monika Wolcott said, "but it's just an unfortunate measurement for the cut scores to have changed so much."
On Thursday, Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg had only 16 percent of kids scoring Level 3 or better, but state calculations show they believe that's equal to the school's performance last year when the higher standards are taken into consideration.
Bill Lawrence, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Pinellas County schools, said he expects annual fluctuations in scores, but was pleased that the reading scores were on par with the state average.
Pinellas County School Board chairwoman Robin Wikle said that, despite the changing standards and the difficulty they bring to schools, they are the standard.
"I can't help but think as hard as we worked, we have to look at the 44 percent we didn't get in reading and the 50 percent we didn't get in math and just work harder," Wikle said.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8707.