Third-grade scores on this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test appeared little changed from last year as the state moves to a tougher set of academic standards.
"I am very proud of our students' efforts and the dedicated work of our teachers," Commissioner of Education Eric Smith said. "(The) release of third-grade reading and mathematics scores highlights a very important transition to more demanding tests."
Statewide, 72 percent of students scored at grade level or above on the reading section, while 78 percent did so in math.
Those averages were unchanged from last year's FCAT, before the introduction of the new grade-level goals. But the two tests were calibrated to allow a rough comparison.
Still, individual district and school scores did vary compared to last year.
In reading, Hillsborough was the only Tampa Bay area district to post a slight gain, with 72 percent of students at grade level. Scores in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando were unchanged from last year at 74, 71 and 76 percent respectively.
In math, Hernando jumped 2 percentage points to 79 percent at grade level. Hillsborough was unchanged at 76 percent, while Pinellas and Pasco each dropped a point to 73 and 70 percent respectively.
Department of Education officials said the state's transition to "next generation" academic standards makes it difficult to compare this year's FCAT 2.0 scores with last year's FCAT. According to a footnote on Thursday's news release, the current scores "have a similar meaning to the FCAT, (but) they do not have the same meaning."
Hernando superintendent Bryan Blavatt said he was pleased with his district's overall improvement. But he's looking forward to seeing the new FCAT scoring system firmly in place next year.
"It's like basketball with a basket that changes height," he said. "Can you say you're shooting better or worse when the basket isn't staying the same?"
Hillsborough assessment manager Nicole Binder said her district's reading gain "shows that our teachers are definitely preparing our students for the more rigorous standards, whereas some districts kind of dropped."
In Pinellas, associate superintendent Bill Lawrence saw reason for optimism with the reading results, with a continued decline in the percentage of third-graders scoring at the lowest level in reading.
But overall math scores are a "huge concern," he said, falling for the fourth year in a row to 73 percent scoring at grade level or above. That's down from 74 percent last year and 78 percent in 2008.
"We really need to do a great deal of data analysis and problem analysis about where we're seeing growth in mathematics, and where we're seeing the opposite," Lawrence said.
More than perhaps any other set of FCAT results, the third-grade scores matter. Students who earn a grade of 1 in reading — two notches below standard on the five-point scale — won't be promoted to fourth grade unless their district submits a portfolio showing their skills are adequate. Students who are learning English or have disabilities can get an exemption.
Volatility in some reading scores last year raised questions about the test's reliability, prompting superintendents including Hillsborough's MaryEllen Elia to demand an investigation. Her district took extra precautions this year.
"All of our students took the Stanford Achievement Test," said assessment manager Binder. "We had a portfolio backup plan just in case."
Times staff writers Ron Matus and Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.