Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett saw a "mixed bag" in the flood of student test data released Friday.
Passing rates for the FCAT were stagnant, but rising performance on end-of-course exams offered a counterbalance.
"There are substantial gains that I think we should be very happy about," Bennett said.
Students in all grade levels and all subgroups logged in higher passing rates on the Algebra I exam this year than last year, with 64 percent of first-time test-takers earning a Level 3 or better on the 5-point scoring system. Students taking the geometry and Biology I exams also improved over last year's passing rates.
A U.S. history exam was given for the first time, as the state continues to make the transition toward tests that assess students' understanding of the material they have just completed and away from more general high school FCAT tests. The Algebra I exam carries the most weight, as it counts as 30 percent of a student's course grade — and passing is a graduation requirement.
The others also make up 30 percent of the students' grades, but passing is not required to earn a high school credit.
In the Tampa Bay area, the Pasco County school district had the best overall performance, meeting or exceeding the state results on all four tests. Hillsborough schools bested the state in geometry and biology, and Pinellas outdid the state in geometry, biology and history. Hernando schools outperformed the state results in U.S. history.
Pinellas students and teachers should take pride in the test results, superintendent Mike Grego said.
Bennett acknowledged concerns by some that the scores might decrease as a result of the Legislature's decision to stop requiring passing scores to graduate, but he said the goal is higher than a test score.
"It's a race to make sure we have more kids college-ready."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.