LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County schools saw their third-grade FCAT math and reading results improve from 2012 when the numbers came out Friday.
The rate of students passing FCAT writing improved, too.
Despite this "positive direction," Pasco students lagged behind their peers statewide — particularly in math. Fifty-one percent of Pasco third-graders were at grade level in math, compared to 58 percent statewide.
"We have significant work to do in math," superintendent Kurt Browning said in a news release.
Lower percentages of Pasco fourth- and eighth-grade students earned a mark of 3.5 on the 6-point scale on the writing test, while Pasco 10th-graders exceeded the state rate by 1 percentage point. A higher percentage of Pasco third-graders passed the FCAT reading exam than the state.
The mixed results gave local officials the justification they sought to continue overhauling the district's academic delivery model. Moves to this point have included redefining the roles and responsibilities of school media center faculty and streamlining special education and student support services.
"Everything is changing in education, so it makes sense for us to change now, so we can see … gains across the district," said Peggy Jones, director of accountability.
She noted that the district is tackling new Common Core State Standards, and said the transition should enable students to better meet future test demands. The district also is looking to successful schools for ideas, Jones added.
"If the increases are due to a particular type of curriculum, that is something we would want to be able to anchor scores to," she said.
Sand Pine Elementary in Wesley Chapel improved in all areas. Its third-graders raised the school's reading passage rate by 8 percentage points, and its math rate by 22.
Principal Todd Cluff said the entire school felt pressure to improve, particularly since its 2012 results missed expectations.
"The third-grade teachers have made a priority to focus on what they could do with math and reading," Cluff said. "It's not been a very easy thing to rise up."
Increased teacher collaboration, different supports for individual students and added understanding of expectations were part of the formula, he said. Like many other schools in Florida, Sand Pine struggled with the 2012 writing test, with teachers saying they were not adequately informed of changes.
This year, the state provided training and documents to better prepare teachers. The state also gave students an added 15 minutes on the exam.
"We're not content until we get even better," Cluff said.
Other schools also saw improvement. Among them, Chasco Elementary third-graders passed the math test at a rate 12 percentage points higher than last year's third-graders, and Longleaf increased its math passing rate by 21 points, Lake Myrtle by 13 points and West Zephyrhills by 17 points.
In reading, Calusa Elementary, a Title I school, had the district's highest gain with a 14-point jump.
Districtwide, officials noted that 88 percent of schools improved in writing, adding that specific subgroups of students made strong gains.
For instance, the percentage of black fourth-graders earning a 3.5 or better rose by 9 points. Eighth-grade English-language learners increased their passing rate by 13 points.
Dayspring Academy charter school had the district's strongest overall third grade performance, with 94 percent passing the reading exam and 90 percent passing math. Administrator Suzanne Legg credited the teachers, who spent a lot of time poring over data of student performance during the year, then giving individual attention as needed.
She said the school's small size and low teacher turnover contributed.
Not all schools had positive results.
Usually high performing Oakstead Elementary, for instance, saw its math passing rate drop 17 points, and Shady Hills Elementary saw its math rate plummet 26 points and its reading drop 15 points. Shady Hills is closing for renovations in the fall.
The Athenian Academy charter school had the district's biggest declines — 23 points in reading and 38 points in math.
The district's most closely watched school, Lacoochee Elementary, had mixed results. Its third-graders improved in both math and reading slightly from a year ago. But they also had the district's worst results, with 26 percent passing reading and 16 percent passing math. The school had a lower percentage of children at Level 1 than a year earlier.
Lacoochee's fourth-graders also had the district's worst writing scores, with an average of 2.6 on the 6-point scale, down from 3.4 a year ago.
Browning has called for a turnaround at the school, and required the faculty to reapply for their jobs.
Five of the six third-grade teachers were rehired before these results were released.