Performance slipped this year for 10th graders on the high-stakes reading portion of the FCAT, with large majorities of students still below grade level.
Results released Thursday showed Hillsborough sophomores leading the struggling pack, with 38 percent at or above standard in reading, down 3 percentage points from last year.
Students must reach proficient levels on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in order to graduate. One bright spot for some of the districts: Over the past five years, every district but Pinellas has improved its 10th grade reading score by 2 to 4 percentage points.
But officials found little comfort in the slow pace of those gains. State education commissioner Eric J. Smith conceded there was "room for improvement" in a news release.
State officials accentuated the positive Thursday, pointing to long-term gains in every subject since 2001. Elementary and middle school students gained 1 to 3 percentage points over last year in math, science and reading.
And middle-schoolers statewide made a fourth straight year of improvements in reading, after years of stagnant scores.
Blake High School earned its second straight D from the state, with hard-won improvement in reading and math. Sophomores raised their reading score by 3 points to 36 percent at grade level; math was up 10 points to 68 percent.
But D-rated Middleton High lost ground in reading, from 21 to 18 percent at grade level, even as it improved its math scores by a point to 52 percent proficient. And Leto High sophomores lost 7 points in reading, from 22 to 15 percent at grade level or better, while holding steady at 52 percent in math.
Just three of 30 county high schools — Newsome, Plant and Sickles — saw more than half their sophomores at proficiency or better in reading.
District officials said raising high school reading scores is an inexact science at best.
"What works at one site sometimes doesn't work at another site," said David Steele, who oversees assessment in Hillsborough as chief information officer.
Times staff writers Jeffrey Solochek, Ron Matus and Tony Marrero contributed to this report.