LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County students continue to write well, as measured by the essay section of the FCAT writing exam.
But when you throw in the non-essay multiple choice portion of the exam, which also takes into account related literacy skills including reading, grammar and spelling, the results falter.
Consider that 67 percent of Pasco fourth-graders, 86 percent of eighth-graders and 77 percent of 10th-graders earned a passing score on the essay portion of the test — the only part that counts toward a school's letter grade. The eighth- and 10th-graders improved over last year, while the fourth-graders slipped.
Add in the multiple choice section and the percentages of students passing the exam tumble to 61 percent at the elementary level, 46 percent for the middle schools and 51 percent for the high schools.
Pasco's scores hover just below the state averages in every category.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino acknowledged that the district has work to do to improve performance.
Primarily, though, she focused on the good news in the results. For instance, she pointed out that 168 students received a 6.0 — the top score — on the essay test.
Fiorentino pointed to Centennial Middle, where 95 percent of eighth-graders received a passing score of 3.5 or better on the essay section. Even more notably, 90 percent scored a 4.0 or better on the essay. It also had 63 percent of students passing the test with the multiple choice section included.
"We were really pleased to see how our middle schools really led the district in their writing achievement," Fiorentino said, noting that 92 percent of district middle schools either maintained or improved their essay scores.
She also highlighted the performance of Lacoochee and Quail Hollow elementary schools, which both saw a 24 percentage point increase in fourth-graders passing the essay exam.
Lacoochee led the pack among elementary schools, with 76 percent of fourth-graders passing the full test and 88 percent passing the essay section.
Among high schools, the ones in central Pasco outpaced all others, with Land O'Lakes High boasting the highest scores, and Wiregrass Ranch and Sunlake high schools close behind. More than 80 percent passed the essay portion at all three schools. They also logged the highest overall scores: 67 percent passed in Land O'Lakes, 62 percent passed at Wiregrass Ranch and 58 percent passed at Sunlake.
The district's two schools facing possible restructuring because of years of poor performance — Cox and Hudson elementary schools — also showed some improvement.
At Cox, 31 percent passed the full test and 71 percent passed the essay section, compared with 28 percent and 62 percent, respectively, a year ago. At Hudson, 52 percent passed the full test and 70 percent passed the essay section, compared with 47 percent and 67 percent, respectively, a year ago.
Assistant superintendent for curriculum Sandy Ramos said she didn't know if those results bode well for the schools' fate. But "we certainly know it's going to be closer to a yes," she said.
She said the district would look at which tactics helped some schools improve their scores, then share those ideas with those schools that performed poorly. Next year, however, the students will only have an essay portion, as the state nixed the multiple choice section due to budget cuts.
The next round of FCAT scores — 12th-grade retakes — are expected next week. Third-grade scores are due the week after that. And school grades are projected to be released in July.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.