A final round of FCAT scores, based on tougher standards and more difficult questions, arrived Monday at Florida's school districts.
Pasco County officials focused on the positives, noting that as a district, students met or exceeded the state passing rate in reading in grades four through nine. The district also saw improvement in its science FCAT performance at the three grade levels it's given — fifth, eighth and 11th — although none had half of students passing.
"We have areas to improve upon," Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino said. "But we're also looking at areas we can celebrate."
Hernando County superintendent Bryan Blavatt, meanwhile, made his unhappiness with the outcome clear. "I'm not pleased," he said.
The reason was math.
The percentage of Hernando fourth-graders scoring at or above grade level dropped 6 points, to 69 percent, while sixth-graders dipped by 5 points below last year's passing rate. Fifth- and eighth-graders saw slight increases.
Fourth-grade math scores dipped in eight of Hernando's 12 elementary and K-8 schools — five of them by double digits. Sixth-grade math scores dropped in seven of the eight middle, K-8 and 6-12 schools.
Hernando did show signs of progress. The district saw modest increases in reading scores in all but fourth and sixth grades, where passing rates dropped slightly.
Pasco's overall results were generally flat across the subject areas and grade levels. That was expected as the state moved to set new scoring curves for the upgraded tests.
The changes made it more difficult to make comparisons from year to year. That should be a one-year concern, though, as the state uses these 2011 results to set a baseline for the future.
Even so, districts did seek to find usable information from the reams of numbers they received.
Yvonne Reins, principal of east Pasco's Cox Elementary, said she and her staff were poring over student results to add to data charts that will help instructors best meet individual academic needs in the fall.
Cox, serving one of Pasco's poorest communities, saw some of the district's best improvements.
The school was one of just a handful in the county to see rising percentages of students passing in every FCAT subject area, in every grade reported Monday. The others were Trinity, West Zephyrhills and Connerton elementary schools, River Ridge Middle, and River Ridge, Pasco and Land O'Lakes high schools.
Cox fourth-graders logged in the highest percentage of any Pasco elementary school passing the math FCAT.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Reins said. "Our reading scores were not as high as we anticipated. … I am happy. However, we still have a long way to go to make it to the point where we feel that all of our students are achieving."
Pasco district leaders also cast a wary eye on some schools that look to be sliding dramatically in their results, including Lacoochee and Gulf Highlands elementary schools.
At Hernando's Brooksville Elementary, the percentage of fourth-graders scoring proficient dropped by 15 percent, causing some tears from teachers, said principal Mary LeDoux.
Before the test, teachers were "sweating bullets" about exactly what to expect on the new version of the FCAT, LeDoux said. The state sent some sample questions, but not enough to give teachers confidence, she said. So while the math scores were tough to take, LeDoux celebrated her school's successes in science and reading.
"It could have been a lot worse," LeDoux said. "If you're judging kids on a year's worth of growth, why is it this big, deep, dark secret?"
Armed with data from this first round, teachers will work over the summer to come up with a strategy to help students tackle the test next year, LeDoux said.
"It gives us a new focus," she said.
Jeffrey Solochek can be reached at (813) 909-4614 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach Tony Marrero at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.