LAND O'LAKES — Just three years ago, Cox Elementary School faced major restructuring after continued low performance on the FCAT.
This year, the high-poverty school stood among the Pasco school district's most improved on the exam results, which arrived Tuesday after weeks of delay.
"They were shining," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said, pointing to outcomes such as the school's 30-point increase in fourth graders meeting or exceeding math standards.
Cox also had 100 percent of its fourth graders meet or exceed writing standards.
"You're going to see a lot more from Cox," Fiorentino said.
It wasn't just that one school that showed strong improvement.
Following a state trend, many of the district's middle and high schools started to see their scores rise after years of middling performance with little growth.
D-rated Gulf High School, for instance, saw 7-point increases in 10th-grade reading and math performance, and a 9-point jump in ninth-grade reading. Hudson High, also a D school, saw similar improvements in 10th-grade scores.
Hudson assistant principal Charlene Prahasky said the staff was excited to see the academic initiatives the school had put in place had started to show up in the students' results.
The school has built common assessments for core courses, and begun using more mid-course tests to determine how to improve instruction throughout the year. Teachers also began meeting as teams to discuss student data more frequently, getting more time for planning together.
Even though the FCAT scores improved, though, Prahasky acknowledged they were far from done with the effort. After all, a 10-point jump in sophomore reading still left Hudson with 33 percent of 10th-graders at or above grade level.
"There is still room to improve," Prahasky said. "We've got to keep the pace and the momentum moving forward."
The school district's changes to alternative schools Irvin and Schwettman, making them more focused on academics than discipline, began to have an effect. Irvin had 26 percent of its ninth graders at or above grade level in math, compared to 15 percent a year ago, for instance.
Schwettman saw its ninth grade reading scores rise from 6 percent at grade level or above to 25 percent. In math, the ninth graders at or above grade level increased from 16 percent to 38 percent.
District officials focused on several other areas of success. Four Title I elementary schools — Cox, Giella, Sunray and Shady Hills — saw large gains in fourth-grade performance in both math and reading.
Crews Lake, Hudson and Stewart middle schools all saw improvement in math results at all three grade levels, as well.
But not all the news was great.
Several elementary schools, long the level at which growth came annually, saw stagnant or lower scores.
Lacoochee Elementary, one of the district's poorest schools, continued to backslide after years of success. It had a few areas of slight improvement, including fourth grade writing and fifth grade science. But it had double-digit dips in percentages of students at grade level in most other testing areas.
Principal Karen Marler said she was "frustrated and sad" that the scores came back poor despite the hard work of teachers and students.
"It's a challenge to be able to address the needs of a high-risk population," she said. "It's very difficult to use the same parameters that are given for the whole with kids who need more."
Marler said her school already has begun to make changes in staffing, curriculum planning and other areas, despite some of the difficulties. The school has not been able to find a literacy coach for more than a year.
"Give us two years," she said, "and I guarantee we will be back where we were."
With the results in hand, the schools now can get to the business of hiring teachers, setting course schedules and other activities that had been delayed along with the scores.
Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly said she expected the work to take place with little added burden to the district.
"It has pushed back our schedule," Reilly said. "But the schools have been able to flex schedules to accommodate that."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.