LAND O'LAKES — As graduation day approached, hundreds of Pasco County high school seniors still had at least one hurdle to overcome to get their diploma.
A small number will be getting good news.
Of the 401 Pasco seniors who still needed to pass the FCAT reading section, just 76, or 19 percent, met the mark on their spring retake, according to results released Thursday.
Of the 183 still needing to pass the math portion, 79, or 43 percent, did so.
Those rates are up slightly from last year, when 18 percent of Pasco seniors passed the reading exam and 34 percent passed the math retake. And they exceed the state average, too.
The term "passed" doesn't necessarily mean what you think. For purposes of meeting the state graduation requirement, passing means scoring a low Level 2 or above on a 10th-grade exam where Level 3 is considered minimally proficient.
Among the reading test-takers, just 7 percent scored at Level 3 or better. Among the math test takers, 19 percent hit that target.
"We may not be happy with everything we saw, but we are seeing increases in both areas (math and reading) … and at every grade level," said Peggy Jones, the district's director of research and evaluation.
The state does not report whether students took both sections or just one. So it's not clear how many seniors will not receive their diplomas next month because of the testing requirement. They'll still get to walk across the stage if they've completed 24 credits with a grade-point average of 2.0 or better, though, because the School Board a year ago ended its practice of barring students who hadn't passed the FCAT from commencement.
In 2005-06, 85 Pasco seniors weren't allowed to walk because they failed the FCAT, up from 44 the year before.
The problems of passing the state's annual accountability test does not appear to be going away for a number of students. Only a quarter of the county's 1,224 juniors retaking the reading exam passed it, while 41 percent of the 563 juniors taking the math section passed.
Students have six chances to pass the 10th-grade FCAT before they graduate, and can continue to take it as many times as they want after their senior year. They can also substitute comparable scores on the ACT or SAT. If they can't meet that standard, they can get a certificate of completion rather than a standard diploma.
Jones said the district will continue to look at results to see which schools had particular success, in hopes of finding programs that can be replicated. She noted, though, that in many instances, the few students who continue to struggle on the FCAT often need individualized programs to help them.
She praised the students for their determination in trying to pass the exam rather than walk away.
"Nobody wants to see a child not graduate or not be successful," Jones said.
Individual student results are due on the FCAT Parent Network, www.fcatparentnetwork.com, by Tuesday. Results from the third-grade reading and math FCAT administration are expected next week.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
Source: Florida Department of Education