BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's high school freshmen and sophomores performed better than last year on the reading portion Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, even though the passing score increased.
The writing scores for fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders, however, came in below the state average, according to results released Friday.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt called that disappointing.
"We're not doing something we should be doing," Blavatt said. "I can't believe our kids can't perform as least as well as the average for all the districts."
Larger percentages of Florida's ninth- and 10th-graders earned a passing score of 3 or better on the FCAT reading exam this year than they did a year ago. That's despite complaints by superintendents across Florida that a higher "cut" score would lead to increased failures and more time and money spent on remedial work.
Hernando matched that trend, with 57 percent of freshmen and 49 percent of sophomores earning a passing score or better. Those numbers are up from last year by six and 12 percentage points, respectively.
The freshman scores exceeded the state passing rate by five points, while the sophomores fell a point shy.
The numbers are encouraging, Blavatt said.
"I'm glad to see we're making improvements in reading," he said.
The writing scores, he said, were troubling, despite the controversy this week that resulted in the state Board of Education lowering the passing score.
This year, the state reverted to using two scorers per test — after switching to one a couple years ago to save money — and asked scorers to grade essays more strictly, with an eye to punctuation, grammar and the quality of word choice and relevance.
That resulted in an unprecedented drop in writing scores statewide. Critics said the state set writing standards too high without giving schools enough time to prepare. Conceding this week that poor communication with teachers could have contributed, the state board decided to decrease the grade-level passing score from 4 to 3 (out of a possible 6).
Only about one-third of students across Florida would have passed with the higher requirement. Switching to a 3 put scores on par with last year's results.
Hernando's students didn't fall too far behind the state average in the percentage of students passing. Eighty percent of fourth-graders, 75 percent of eighth-graders and 82 percent of 10th-graders scored a 3 or higher.
Had the passing score remained at 4, just 23 percent of the Hernando's fourth-graders, 28 percent of eighth-graders and 33 percent of 10th-graders would have made the grade.
Several schools saw numbers much lower than those.
At Spring Hill, J.D. Floyd and Pine Grove elementary schools, 10 percent, 11 percent and 12 percent of fourth-graders, respectively, scored a 4 or higher. The percentages at Brooksville, Eastside and Moton elementary schools didn't break out of the teens.
Even at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, consistently one of the district's highest-performing schools, only 36 percent of fourth-graders would have passed (though that is still nine points above the stage average).
The percentage of eighth-graders scoring 4 and higher ranged from 18 at Powell Middle and Explorer K-8 to 53 at Challenger.
The percentages of 10th-graders scoring 4 and higher ranged from 24 percent at Central High to 46 at Nature Coast Technical.
The numbers came as a shock at Brooksville Elementary, because writing scores up until now had continued to improve, said principal Mary LeDoux.
"You don't grow poor writers overnight," LeDoux said. "Obviously, (state officials) changed what they were looking for, and we just have to find out what that is."
This week's fiasco is another sign that high-stakes tests are a liability, not a benefit, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.
"Every time the state has to come back and correct something, it shows they have a very flawed system," Vitalo said.
That debate aside, the district has work to do to see that students meet or exceed the state average, Blavatt said.
"I don't feel comfortable giving anybody any excuses about that," he said. "I'm going to go back and drill down and see what skills our kids are lacking and address with staff how to do better to meet those needs."
Staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.