The staff of Central High School did a lot of boasting about the outstanding academic achievements of the class of 1997 _ including more than $2-million in scholarship money and eight students who earned associate's degrees while still in high school.
Add results from college-entrance tests to the list.
Bolstered by impressive increases at Central and Hernando high schools, the Hernando school district saw its scores on most segments of the SAT and ACT rise above the state averages for the first time. The district still falls short of national averages in most areas, however.
"Obviously we are pleased," Charles Casciotta, a high school and middle school curriculum specialist with the district, said of the newly released results. "I don't know what the reason is. It's always a lot of factors, so what can I say? We're thrilled."
The accomplishment is particularly impressive given the increased percentage of local high school seniors taking the two national standardized tests. The district's top students have always taken one or both of the exams, but more middle-of-the-pack students are now taking them. More students taking the test in a district usually leads to lower average scores.
The number of students taking the ACT jumped from 266 to 359 last year. Much of that increase can be attributed to a new state college scholarship for students who score above a 20 on the ACT or above a combined 970 on the SAT, and who maintain a 3.0 grade-point average.
Even with the increased percentage of students taking the tests, it's a relatively small and elite group when compared to the rest of Florida.
Statewide, 50 percent of high school seniors took the SAT last year. Those students had an average grade-point average of 3.22, on a 4-point scale. In Hernando county, 37 percent of the seniors took the SAT with an average grade-point average of 3.36, according to a report from the test's sponsors.
A smaller pool of students with better grades should mean higher scores. But the district scored an average of 488 on the math section of the test, compared to the state average of 499 and the national average of 511.
On the verbal section of the test, district students averaged 507. The state average was 499. The national average was 505.
Each section of the SAT is graded on a scale of 200 to 800, with 800 being a perfect score.
A school-by-school breakdown shows Hernando and Central high schools making impressive gains in virtually all segments of the two tests. Hernando High's verbal score on the SAT, for example, increased by 28 points over the 1995-96 scores. Central's math SAT scores went up by 24 points.
Springstead High School, however, showed only modest gains in some areas and small losses in others. For the first time in at least five years, Springstead's scores were the lowest in the district on the SAT.
One possible reason for Springstead falling behind is that the school has by far the highest rate of participation in the tests. More than half of the students who took the SAT came from Springstead, meaning more lower-end students took the test from Springstead than anywhere else.
Springstead High School principal Donnie Moen did not return phone calls for this article.
Casciotta warned against drawing any conclusions about the quality of education at a school based on one year of test results. But the five-year trend indicates Springstead is not enjoying the same rate of increase in test scores as the district's other two high schools.
Since the 1991-92 school year, Springstead's average SAT scores have gone up by 11 points, compared to bumps of 27 points at Central and 29 points at Hernando over the same period.
Springstead also fell behind the other two district high schools last year in a test given to freshmen entering state colleges and universities. That test concluded that only 54 percent of Springstead graduates taking the test were ready for college-level work, compared with 71 percent from Hernando High and 58 percent from Central.
One potential factor in Springstead's slump is the education level of the students' parents. Educators have long pointed to parental education levels as being one of the most accurate statistics to predict academic achievement of their children. The higher the education level of the parents, the more likely a student is to be a high academic achiever.
Springstead, according the SAT report, had the highest percentage of students taking the test whose parents did not attend college _ about 52 percent. Districtwide, among the test-takers, about 40 percent of the parents did not have at least a junior college degree.
Central High School principal Dennis McGeehan said he credits parents with his school's good results.
"We were very proud of these numbers and of the graduating class of 1997 for putting them up," he said. "They've posed a real challenge to the class of 1998 and those that come on later to try to do as well. I know they will get the support at home and the assistance from the teachers to keep doing better."
Test scores on the rise for Hernando students
Here are test results from Hernando County students, mostly seniors, who took the SAT and ACT tests during the 1996-97 school year. ACT tests are scored on a 1-36 scale. A perfect score on the SAT is 800.
ACT SCORES (CHANGES FROM PREVIOUS YEAR)
English Math Reading
Countywide 20.5 (+.5) 19.8 (+.3) 21.8 (+.5)
Central High 21.1 (+.1) 21.2 (+1.4) 22.8 (+1.7)
Hernando High 20.4 (+1.3) 18.8 (+.2) 21.1 (-.4)
Springstead High 20.1 (-.3) 19.7 (-.1) 21.8 (+.1)
Florida 19.9 (+0) 20.7 (+.4) 21.1 (-.1)
United States 20.3 (+0) 20.6 (+.4) 21.3 (+0)
Countywide 21.2 (+.6) 20.9 (+.4)
Central High 21.9 (+1.3) 21.9 (+1.4)
Hernando High 20.2 (-.4) 20.2 (+.4)
Springstead High 21.6 (-.1) 20.9 (+.1)
Florida 20.6 (+0) 20.7 (+0)
United States 21.1 (+0) 21.0 (+.1)
Countywide 488 (+14) 507 (+7)
Central High 504 (+24) 519 (+20)
Hernando High 485 (+19) 517 (+28)
Springstead High 480 (+6) 490 (-9)
Florida 499 (+3) 499 (+1)
United States 511 (+3) 505 (+0)
Source: College Entrance Examination Board, ACT Inc.